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The Parthenon Marbles 


The Parthenon Marbles 

The Case For Reunification 



Preface by Nadine Gordimer 

with essays by Robert Browning and Charalambos Bouras 

This edition is dedicated to the memory of James Cubitt RIBA 
(1914-1983), founder of the British Committee for the Restitution 

of the Parthenon Marbles. 



London • Ne>v v^k 

First published as The Elgin Marbles by Chatto & Windus Ltd 1987 
First Verso edition published 1997 
This edition published by Verso 2008 
Copyright Christopher Hitchens 1987, 1997, 2008 
‘Preface’ copyright © Nadine Gordimer 2008 
‘The Parthenon in History’ copyright © Robert Browning 1987 
‘The Restitution Works on the Acropolis Monuments’ copyright © 
Charalambos Bouras 2008 

Photographs in Appendix 3 copyright © Nikos Dan ilid is 
All rights reserved 

The moral rights of the authors have been asserted 
1 3 5 79 108642 


UK: 6 Meard Street, London W1F 0EG 
USA: 20 Jay Street, Suite 1010, Brooklyn, NY 11201 

Verso is the imprint of New Left Books 

ISBN-13: 978-1-84467-252-3 
ISBN-13: 978-1-78663-182-4 (US EBK) 

ISBN-13: 978-1-78663-181-7 (UK EBK) 

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data 

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data 

A catalog record for this book is available from the Library of Congress 


Preface to the 2008 Edition 
Nadine Gordimer 

Introduction to the 2008 Edition 
Christopher Hitchens 

Foreword to the 1997 Edition 
Christopher Hitchens 

Foreword to the 1987 Edition 
Christopher Hitchens 

The Parthenon in History 
Robert Browning 

The Elgin Marbles 
Christopher Hitchens 

The Restitution Works on the Acropolis Monuments 
Charalambos Bouras 

Appendix 1 

The Present Location of the Parthenon Marbles 
Appendix 2 

The Commons Debate 1816 
Appendix 3 

The Parthenon Gallery in the New Acropolis Museum 


Preface to the 2008 Edition 

Nadine Gordimer 

How parts of the Parthenon frieze came to be in England in the first place is an example of imperial 
arrogance manifest in marble. ‘Wider still and wider shall thy bounds be set’ - not content with 
claiming sovereignty over other peoples’ countries, the British Empire appropriated the art in which 
the ethos, history, religious mythology, the fundament of the people is imbued. The ethics of a British 
national museum, in the early nineteenth century, in buying the heritage of another country without 
concern of how and by whom it came to be on sale, were evidently countenanced, despite some 
controversy, in the name of this same imperial arrogance. 

But that is the past. Restitution now, in the twenty-first century, is on wider (appropriately) than 
legal grounds, grounds of dishonesty in colonialism justified as the acquisition of art. 

We should start by ceasing to speak of the ‘Elgin Marbles’. They are not and never were Lord 
Elgin’s marbles; that is not their provenance. As is so exigently researched and set out in this book, 
they are sections of the Parthenon marbles that Lord Elgin, British Ambassador to Greece during th( 
late Ottoman regime, had hacked out of the antique frieze in the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens. 
In terms of origin, the claim is absolute: they belong to Greece. But as representative of the culture oJ 
ancient Greece, as the genesis of the ideal of humanism and beauty in art, there is also the argument 
that the Parthenon frieze belongs to world culture, to all of us who even unknowingly derive 
something of our democratic aesthetic from it. From that argument derives another: where in the 
world should such art, universally ‘owned’ in the sense of human development, be displayed? Where 
will the inspirational sight be available to the majority of us? The answer ‘the British Museum ir 
London’ harks back to that relic of Empire, the assumption that Britain is the mecca of the world; thal 
the sections of the Parthenon frieze shown there can be seen by more people, from more parts of the 
globe, than is possible anywhere else. I do not know the comparable figures for visitors to Athens and 
London. I do know, as one among millions of others who live neither in England nor in Greece, thal 
neither great city is a venue for a casual Sunday afternoon cultural outing. For the majority of the 
world population, both cities are equally unlikely destinations. Even for those fortunate enough to 
have the means to travel, a choice of either destination is decided by an itinerary: both are ‘abroad’, 
far away. So whether more people see the Parthenon marbles in isolation from their living context in 
London, than do others who see them in Athens, is a criterion for the privileged of where they should 
be. They belong: they are the DNA, in art, of the people of Greece. If they also belong, as they do, tc 
all of us who have inherited such evidence of human creativity as development, and there is no site in 
our world where the direct experience of seeing them is achievable for everyone, where else should 
they be but where they were created? 

One of the reasons, other than the specious one of availability, that is presented by those who 
demand to keep the Parthenon marbles in the British Museum, is that returning them to their country oJ 
origin would begin a forced exodus of foreign treasures from all museums where great ones are held. 
Certainly this would seem to deny the purpose of art museums: to further appreciation of the 

universality in diversity of art as profound human expression, in different visions, by different 
peoples occupying varied environments in past and present times. Setting aside this sweeping 
conclusion of empty museums, one would accept as reasonable that examples of art from other 
cultures, objects complete in themselves, not plundered from their essential context but legally 
purchased - objects that exist in many surviving examples in their countries of origin, could be 
honourably retained by foreign museums. 

‘Objects complete in themselves’ - that is unquestionably a decisive criterion in the case of the 
Parthenon marbles. The ‘Elgin’ marbles are sections, chapters in stone, excised from a marvel, 
narrative brutally interrupted, some isolated in the British Museum, others, incomplete in their 
sequence, in their rightful place in Athens. The magnificent coherence of one of the greatest works of 
art incredibly still in existence is, as art and in its meaning as a unit, denied and destroyed. The frieze 
that survived invasions, conquests, the desecration by Christian and Muslim religious regimes, 300 
years of rule by another empire (the Ottoman) - this has been torn apart. Fortunately the coherence 
can and must be restored. The return of the marble chapters of the Parthenon frieze narrative from the 
British Museum to Greece will be fulfilment for Greece and for world heritage. 

There is an argument for the retention of great irreplaceable works of artistic genius that is as old, 
if not older, than that put forward in defence of Lord Elgin. And it has some credence. In many eras 
and countries, exquisite works have been vandalised in conflicts political and religious, while the 
conditions of neglect in which some are kept now, endangering their survival, seem to be justification 
for pillaging them for the benefit of foreign museums that can afford to protect and preserve the works 
in controlled environments. There they are displayed with pride in halls, complete with labels 
identifying their significance in the beliefs, arts, social and political organisation of their distant place 
and time. Continuity of that place and time in the living people of the countries of origin, ofcourse, is 
ofiio consideration to the museum’s directors. 

On any criteria of ability, facility to preserve and display their own heritage of great works of art 
as their importance decrees, Greece has created a claim incontestably unmatched. The Parthenor 
Gallery in the New Acropolis Museum provides a sweep of contiguous space for the 106-metre-lon^ 
Panathenaic Procession as it never could be seen anywhere else, facing the Parthenon itselfhigh on 
the Sacred Rock. But there are gaps in the magnificent frieze, left blank. They are there to be filled b) 
an honourable return of the missing parts from the British Museum. Reverence - and justice - demand 

Introduction to 

The Parthenon Marbles (2008) 

Christopher Hitchens 

I can remember, many years ago, reading an appreciation of Sir Karl Popper written by Bryan Magee 
Here is roughly what Popper postulated about the mode of argument or disagreement when it is 
properly conducted. Any two people holding directly opposed positions will only very seldom if 
ever, if they argue according to strict rules of logic and evidence, succeed in convincing or defeating 
the other. It does very occasionally happen. (Peter de Vries has a brilliantly amusing example in his 
novel Slouching Towards Kalamazoo, where the village atheist and the village priest have a debate, 
and each convinces his rival so utterly that neither one can later be induced to change his mind back 
again.) But let us admit that it is rare. What happens instead, according to Popper, is that at the end ol 
the debate both speakers still hew to their original positions. But they do not hold them in precisely 
the same way. It will be noticed, by the objective or disinterested observer, that each view has been 
respectively modified by the other, even if this is not always quite apparent to the participants. 

It is now twenty years since I was approached by the (then) British Committee for the Restitutioi 
of the Parthenon Marbles, and asked to compose a piece of advocacy that was based on a simple 
appeal to natural justice. The sculpture of the Parthenon had been crudely amputated and pillaged at a 
time when Greece itself was a powerless Ottoman helot: here was a wrong that could be righted as 
well as an example of wilful damage that could be repaired. Melina Mercouri was the international 
champion of our cause, and in my mind at least this association had something to do with Greece’s 
emergence from a long twilight of military dictatorship, as well as with - at a slight remove - the 
cultural desecration of the island of Cyprus by the brute force of Turkish imperialism. To be a 
philhellene in those days was to be unashamedly political and indeed I say this without any shame. 
The campaign to do justice in the matter of the sculpture had a resonance beyond itself, and partook of 
a long and honourable solidarity between British liberals and radicals and the cause of a free and 
independent Greece. 

I do not take back a single word of what I wrote then, and haven’t altered a word in this book. 
And I sadly mourn the loss of Professor Robert Browning and of Peter Thompson, two of those witi 
whom I fought the Greek military junta, protested at the invasion of Cyprus, and helped revive the old 
campaign to reunify the Parthenon marbles. And that last verb - ‘reunify’, which I claim some credit 
for popularizing - has since become part of the proper name of our distinguished Committee. Yes, by 
all means, the Parthenon is Greek and Greeks have rights and claims (and if a British national edifice 
or sculpture, like Nelson’s column, had been mutilated in this way while the country was under 
foreign occupation we would never hear the end of it). But I remember the day on which I found 
myself saying this to an audience: Picture the panel of th eMona Lisa, if it had been sawn in half by 
art-thieves during, say, the Napoleonic wars. Imagine the two halves surviving the conflict, with one 
ending up in a museum in Copenhagen and the other in a gallery in Lisbon. Would you not be 

impatient, not to say eager, to see how the two would look when placed side by side? 

You notice that I do not say ‘placed side by side in Tuscany’ because, in the Leonardo case, any 
reunification would do and the national or regional context would be a secondary issue at best. 
Would I then support the removal of the rest of the Parthenon sculpture - the parts not annexed by 
Lord Elgin - to be displayed in the British Museum? I return the question. Wouldvcv/? There is an 
essential absurdity involved in such a proposition: the sort of debating point that eventually 
embarrasses its originator. Thus the choices come down to three. (I) Keep the panels separated at 
opposite ends of Europe, so that nobody will ever be able to see them placed together in such a way 
as to tell the story they tell. (II) Move the Greek ones to Bloomsbury. (Ill) Restore the ones held in th 
British Museum to the new Museum of the Acropolis. 

Mention of this last location helps to explain how the views of our side in this debate have 
evolved. It was perfectly easy to argue, from the principles of natural justice earlier adumbrated so 
confidently by a twenty-years-younger me, that the marbles belonged in the light and air and space of 
Athens and that was that. But a few tedious points nonetheless remained to be resolved. Where were 
the sculptures to be put? What was the condition of the panels and figures that had remained in 
Athens? What was the state of Athens itself? In reverse order, these questions could be answered as 
follows: The city was a polluted mess; the condition of the on-site sculpture was deplorable; neither 
the municipality nor the nation had anywhere serious to house any of the works of Phidias and his 
gifted assistants. 

This did not really affect the principle, whether defined as aesthetic or proprietorial, of where the 
marbles actually ought to be. But it did furnish the British Museum and its partisans with an arsenal 
of delaying tactics and a wriggling basket of red herrings. These, plus the useful inertia of actual 
possession, have kept the argument in balk for another twenty years. This Fabius Cunctator phase of 
the debate, however, is now drawing peacefully towards its close. 

It was never really possible for the British Museum to argue with a straight face that it had boughi 
the marbles from Lord Elgin, or that he had purloined them in the first place, in the spirit ol 
conservation. Engineered in reverse, a sort of half-hearted case could be confected, that the 
acquisitiveness of both parties had had an accidentally preserving effect. But this would no more 
confer the right to retain the marbles than would a claim, made by a neighbour in whose safekeeping 
valuables had been left, who then announced that by his accidental generosity he had quite 
incidentally become their sole owner. In any case, the hazards of the marbles’ removal were at least 
equal to the hazards of their remaining in place. Lord Elgin’s vessel carrying much of the sculpture 
was lost at sea and that might have been the end of the matter. The Duveen Gallery was bombed by 
the Nazis only shortly after the removal of the marbles from public view and that might also have 
written finis to our story. Between these two near-calamitous events there occurred a vandalizing of 
the marbles which quite alters the supposed argument that the British Museum was doing good by 
stealth in acquiring stolen property and then brazenly asserting that it had, after all, looked after the 
loot with every care. 

Look first upon this picture, and on this ... If you survey Slab X, one of the fourteen such slabs 
that Lord Elgin did not remove, you will be able to notice a few traces of coloured paint, as from the 
original, in deep recesses under the patina. You will also be able to descry important details, such as 
the veins on the belly of the horse. In the case of Slab II, in exile in London, the crude and harsl 
scouring to which the marbles were subjected in 1937-38 has obliterated these traces of antiquity. 
The sculptures of the west frieze of the Parthenon, which were removed from the main building ir 
1993 and given a double-laser treatment that removed the encrusted grime but preserved the warm 

‘honey-brown’ patina, have a much better claim to being authentic than their scrubbed and sterilized 
(and in point of fact, vandalized) siblings in Bloomsbury. The claim of the British Museum to have 
been a superior curator, spurious as it is anyway in respect of stolen property, is thus demonstrably 
void on its own terms. 

Secure as one felt on the point of principle, it was nonetheless frustrating, through the 1980s and 
1990s, to have to endure a series of false starts regarding the promised opening of a fitting repository 
for the entire sculpture in Athens. There were legitimate reasons for delay: any large building project 
or excavation in that city is liable to unearth sites or objects that are in themselves worthy of 
preservation. But, as with the long-heralded Athenian subway system (which also began to look at 
one stage as if it had joined the Greek Kalends) the work was eventually completed. On the other side 
of the theatre of Dionysus from the Acropolis, on an existing classical site which it leaves 
undisturbed by resting on pillars which are also seismically insured through all the levels of the 
building, we at last have a museum that both fits the geometry of the surrounding streets and maintains 
itself at a respectful angle to the adjacent temple. 

In this impressive space, drenched in Greek light thanks to the insistence of its distinguished 
French-Swiss architect Bernard Tschumi, a top-floor gallery is already receiving the friezes oi 
Phidias and showing us, for the first time in two centuries, how they are supposed to look when 
considered as they were conceived: in other words as a whole. On the outside of the top floor are 
ranged the metopes, with the frieze on the interior wall. ‘The concept,’ says Tschumi, ‘was to restore 
the continuity of the narrative.’ To that end, the missing or exiled or annexed sculptures are 
represented by plaster casts draped in wire mesh veils, as if present only in a ghostly or ethereal 
form. The asymmetry will, perhaps, naturally prompt an aesthetic desire to see how the unified 
collection would look, within clear sight and direct reach of the Parthenon itself. In a nice 
coincidence, Tschumi told me, it was found that the columns in the top floor gallery were spaced 
precisely like the columns of the temple - simply because they were placed to accommodate the 
frieze and the metopes. ‘An instance of geometry and symmetry reproducing itself.’ 

It is now not so much a matter of imagining how the sculptures would look if reunited, as of being 
actually able to do so. The Greek Ministry of Culture, in concert with the Melina Mercour 
Foundation, has imaginatively produced a traveling exhibit of ‘virtual reality’ which allows us to 
view the reunited fragments. One might single out for mention the body of the goddess Iris (at present 
in London), her head (still in Athens) and a simulation of how the two pieces would look if they were 
put together. Other examples would be the torso of Poseidon, the front part of which is in London and 
the rear part in Athens, or the horsemen of the North Frieze, whose two-panel cavalcade has beer 
crudely partitioned and separated. Dr Dimitrios Pandermalis, the president of the Acropolis Museum 
has favoured me with a slide-show that contains several more examples of simulated reunification. 
Ought such a pedantic demonstration really to be necessary? Apparently yes, if the trustees of the 
British Museum are to be brought to see reason. 

And how have they been evolving and refining their arguments over the past two decades? It will 
perhaps be remembered what Sir David Wilson, Keeper of the Museum, said on the BBC in Jun 

To rip the Elgin Marbles from the walls of the British Museum is a much greater disaster than the threat of blowing up the 
Parthenon ... I think this is cultural fascism. It’s nationalism and it’s cultural danger ... It’s a thing that you ought to think of very 
carefully, it’s like burning books. That’s what Hitler did. 

Asked by an incredulous interviewer whether he seriously meant to say that his critics were guilty ot 

cultural fascism, Sir David managed to flatly contradict himself: 

I think not the people who are wanting the Elgin Marbles to go back to Greece if they are Greek. But I think that the world 
opinion and the people in this country who want the Elgin Marbles to go back to Greece are actually guilty of something very 
much approaching it. 

Thus, according to Wilson, it was not ‘nationalism’ for Greeks to seek the return of the sculpture, 
whereas it was verging on ‘cultural fascism’ for non-Greeks to do so. This foam-flecked and 
incoherent hyperbole was in response to the campaign inaugurated by Melina Mercouri, and one 
might perhaps concede that there was a slight element of ‘nationalism’ (or patriotism) in her appeal. 
No shame in that, necessarily, but as I have been saying, the gravamen of the restitutionist case has 
always been, and is now almost exclusively, an aesthetic one having to do with the integrity and unity 
of the sculpture. Perhaps sensing this, and additionally realizing that the arrival of the Acropolis 
Museum has rather altered the ground and landscape of the argument, Jonathan Williams, curator ol 
the British Museum’s European department, recently had this to say to the Washington Post. He 
conceded that the new galleries in Athens were ‘an extraordinary achievement’ before adding: 

The position of the trustees essentially remains that the current distribution in Athens and London provides an important 
opportunity for different stories about this monument to be told. 

Let us concede that this is a slight improvement, in its mushy and evasive post-modern babble, on the 
rantings of Sir David Wilson. Indeed, one might as well take the extra step and agree that the silk} 
and evasive expressions of Mr Williams are unintentionally true. The ‘current distribution’ as 
between Athens and London will certainly continue to furnish us with the opportunity to tell 
discrepant ‘stories’ about the ‘monument’ and its breathtaking adornments. One of the stories is about 
the clumsy desecration of a marvellous building, and about the opportunist acquisition of the hastily- 
chiseled plunder, and about the dismal euphemisms that have been employed ever since to disguise 
the original offense. The alternative story looks these facts in the face, and sees an opportunity to 
redress an old injustice and restore an ancient beauty and symmetry, and roundly declares that many, 
many British citizens will never regard the case as closed until the restoration, restitution, reparation 
or, if you like, reunification is complete. 

Foreword to the 1997 Edition 

Christopher Hitchens 

Those who support the status quo at the British Museum, and the retention in London of a great single 
work of classical Greek sculpture, have the great advantage of inertia on their side. Their arguments 
need not be good; indeed they need deploy no actual arguments at all. Thus, one may patiently point 
out that the sculpture is mutilated by its enforced separation, that this is a highly unusual not to say 
unique situation, and that there exists no court or body that can enforce any ‘precedent’ in any case, 
and still be met by the jeering retort that return of the Parthenon marbles will empty not just the 
British Museum but all British museums. 

Still, all efforts to shift the apparently immovable (in this case, the certainty of its own rectitude 
on the part of a section of the British Establishment) have had their moments of discouragement. Ii 
was depressing, admittedly, to read the exchange in the House of Lords on 19 May 1997, when a 
proposal for restitution was made by the doughty Lord Jenkins of Putney, and met with the following 
objections by other Noble Lords, as minuted in Hansard: 

Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, will the Mi nis ter bear in mind that the survival of these lovely creations results from their being 
taken over by this country and that it is therefore very important that they should remain here? 

Lord Strabolgi: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that such a move would be an unwelcome precedent? If we started to return 
works of art to other countries, there would not be much left in our museums and galleries. 

Lord Wyatt of Weeford: My Lords, is the Minister aware that it would be dangerous to return the marbles to Athens because 
they were under attack by Turkish and Greek fire in the Parthenon when they were rescued and the volatile Greeks might easily 
start hurling bombs around again? 

All of these ‘arguments’ were offered as if for the very first time. And Lord Lucas was present, ir 
order to make sure that the whiskery joke about ‘losing our marbles’ was not omitted from the record. 
This little book - which does no more than summarise a case built up over almost two centuries - 
was first published nearly a decade ago. A copy may be found in the excellent House of Lords 
library. If Lord Boyd-Carpenter was sincere about his concern for the survival of antiquities, and 
wished moreover to be clear about his history, he could have tidied up his confusion by consulting 
pages 24-36. The same can be said, I hope without undue immodesty, for the non sequitur that 
exercises Lord Strabolgi (pp. 83-7) and even for the alarmist views evinced by Lord Wyatt of 
Weeford (pp. 52-3) though I doubt, considering that bombs go off in London more, and more often, 
than in Athens, that anything can hope to change that mind. And are there that many Lords or Commons 
who really take the view that, having saved the property of a neighbour in an emergency, one would 
be justified in annexing it for oneself? 

Let us not be too discouraged. In the same period, the descriptive term employed by the 
government and by more and more commentators has become the ‘Parthenon sculptures’. Only the 
British Museum, bound as it is by the terms of a restrictive agreement, insists on the misleading term 
‘Elgin marbles’ (seepp. 17 and 43). Alas, the incoming 1997 Labour government made a hasty 

commitment, in reply to a too-hasty question, to the dubious notion of the sculptures as ‘an integral 
part’ of the Museum. But even the term ‘integral part’ is an advance. If integrity is a consideration, 
then how much more are the two halves of the Parthenon frieze integral to each other? In subtle but 
important ways, the locus of debate on this question has shifted to a more elevated plane. 

Public opinion, often supposed to be in populist thrall to the saloon-bar, dog-in-the-manger 
argument of ‘where will it all end?’, has shown more open-mindedness and generosity than some of 
the possessing classes themselves. After a remarkably comprehensive television presentation of the 
issues, conducted by William G. Stewart and transmitted by Channel Four in its Without Walls series 
on 16 April 1996, viewers were encouraged to register a vote by telephone. Those responding were 
not of course a ‘scientific’ sample (supposing there to be such a thing) but of the 99,340 audience 
members expressing an opinion, no fewer than 91,822 - or 92.5 per cent of the total - cast their votes 
for restitution. At about the same time, one hundred and nine Members of Parliament, including ter 
who later became members of the Blair ministry, signed an Early Day Motion to the same effect. 

It deserves to be said that the ‘proposal’ put to the Channel Four audience included three 
conditions to be met by the Greek side, viz: there should should be a new Acropolis Museum ready to 
receive the sculptures; the costs of return, and of making a complete set of copies for exhibition in 
Bloomsbury, should be met by Greece; the Greek government should undertake to press no further 
claims for restitution. All of these conditions already have been or are being met by the Greek 
authorities - further proof that there is no objection, genuine or frivolous, to this obviously just 
solution that cannot easily be overcome. 

The retentionists may sometimes inquire of themselves why it is that this argument, which to them 
appears so simple, keeps on coming up. For generations, large numbers of British people have 
agitated for the righting of a wrong and the repair, as far as may be possible, of a major aesthetic 
blemish. Though the historical record, in my view, offers conclusive support for the restitutionist 
position, it is the aesthetic argument which is unanswerable, and the ‘bad precedent’ argument which 
most needs putting out ofits misery. To hear some people utter, one might suppose that the Parthenon 
sculptures would disappear from view if they were returned to Greece. While all unawares, il 
sometimes seems, the British government and people are being offered (at no cost to themselves, if 
that matters) the opportunity to perform a noble and even beautiful act. The Stone of Scone is a 
boulder, which can be revered on any site but no doubt is seen and experienced to better advantage in 
Scotland. Its significance is principally national, and there is no shame in that. The Rosetta Stone 
belongs to humanity, in that it helped the world to decode a script that is no longer in Egyptian usage, 
and is as well off in the British Museum as it would be in the Louvre or, if chance had so dictated, ir 
the national museum in Cairo. The Parthenon sculpture is like a marvellous canvas arbitrarily torr 
across, with its depth and perspective and proportion summarily abolished. This is why, however 
long the debate should last, there will always be those who rebel against the disfigurement and who 
long to see it undone. 

It is not so difficult to picture the actual scene. At a dignified ceremony for the inauguration of the 
new Acropolis Museum, the caryatid sisters are reunited and the other sculptures put in harmonious 
configuration with one another. The Speaker of the Greek Parliament welcomes the Speaker of the 
British Parliament, or perhaps the Prime Minister, and solemnly thanks him for Britain’s careful 
stewardship of the treasure, and the decency involved in returning it. In towns and villages all over 
Greece, and in Greek tavernas all over the world, the spirit of phylloxenia prevails and no British 
guest is allowed to pay his or her bill. It is discovered that the sculptures have not vanished, and 
indeed are accessible to all and visible to even greater advantage. In the correspondence column of 

the London Times, letters appear wondering why, after all, nobody thought of this before. The sad 
pleasures of retention suddenly appear petty and negligible when contrasted to the broad and spacious 

There are many good points on the restitutionist side. A motion before the European Parliament, 
signed by 250 members, speaks eloquently for instance of the contribution that return might make to a 
‘European’ atmosphere. But essentially, either one can visualise the moment evoked above, or one 

If that moment comes to pass, and I am morally certain that it will, there will be a residue ol 
sadness. Professor Robert Browning,who guided and inspired the British Committee for the 
Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles, died suddenly in January 1997. His was the finest possible 
balance between the heart and the head: between the claims of natural justice and the scrupulous 
weighing of evidence. He was deeply mourned across the whole universe of classical scholarship, 
but perhaps those of us who knew him in the first fourteen years of the Committee’s untiring labour 
can claim a position in the first rank of the mourners. There is not a page of this text that does not bear 
the impress of his care and measure. 

Who speaks for the British - the Wyatts of Weeford or the Brownings? More depends on the 
answer than might appear at first glance. 

Foreword to the 1987 Edition 

Christopher Hitchens 

In late 1982 I asked Alexander Chancellor, then editor of the Spectator, if I might contribute an 
article about the Parthenon marbles. He agreed and the piece, which was entitled ‘Give Them Bacl 
Their Marbles’, appeared on 1 January 1983. It got a warmer response than I had expected, as wel 
as some rebukes from other Spectator contributors, and I’m told that it helped to re-ignite the 
argument in Britain. This argument was soon to become even more animated as a consequence of the 
Greek government’s formal request for restitution. A freshet of articles and editorials appeared, none 
of them omitting the simple pun about ‘losing our marbles’ that is so beloved of the British headline- 

My first thanks, then, are due to Alexander Chancellor. But for guiding and developing my 
interest, and for correcting some errors that I had made in my enthusiasm, I am truly indebted to 
Professor Robert Browning, Mrs Eleni Cubitt and Mr Peter Thompson. The British Committee for tl 
Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles is the most literate, resourceful and patient campaigning body ] 
have ever struck, and operates in the great tradition of British philanthropy and internationalism 

Those who helped and advised me in Athens are numerous. I must mention Bruce Clark, Jules 
Dassin, Constantine Kalligas, Edmund Keeley, George Livanos, Alexandras Mantis, Melin 
Mercouri and Nicoletta Valachou. A long conversation with Professor Walter Burkert at a weekend 
session hosted by the Ionic Centre in Chios helped me to clarify many uncertainties about the Greel 

In the United States I received much help and advice, and some admonitions, from Karl E. Meyer 
whose concern for the fair treatment of antiquities is precisely equalled by his feeling for the integrity 
of museums and collections. George Livanos and Kenneth Egan of the American Hellenic Alliance 
kept me afloat with generous support at a time when I needed it most. George Vournas is the 
institutional memory of the Greek American community. Nicos Papaconstantinou and Achilleas 
Paparsenos of the Greek Embassy in Washington were more helpful and kindly in answering queries 
than duty required of them. Bruce Martin of the Library of Congress is a good and disinterested frienc 
of all scholars and researchers, however amateur. In London, Allegra Huston was patient with me and 
impatient with the least slovenliness in the text - a rare and apposite combination. 

A final note. The term ‘philhellene’ is often used patronisingly in the English vernacular, as if it 
signified some slightly questionable Romantic addiction. I have been very impressed in the course ol 
preparing this little book by the number of British people who, all down the generations since the 
marbles were removed, have looked at the matter in a sober and phlegmatic way and concluded that a 
wrong has been done. In a mostly dispassionate manner they have sought for nearly two centuries to 
put it right, while much of the emotional flailing has been done by those who deny that there is any 
problem in the first place. I do not think that emotions should always be distrusted, so I hope that the 
ensuing pages are true to those who have insisted that the emotions of others matter as well. The 
prompting of justice, like the voice of reason, is quiet but very persistent. 

The author and publishers would like to acknowledge with thanks the following copyright holders: 

Professor A. M. Snodgrass, Peter Levi and Professor A. A. Long fromTTze Greek World, 
Classical, Byzantine and Modern, edited by Robert Browning, Thames & Hudson, London, 1985 
Copyright © 1985 Thames & Hudson Ltd, London. 

‘Homage to the British Museum’ by William Empson, from Collected Poems, copyright © The 
Estate of Sir William Empson 1955, 1984. Reproduced by permission of Lady Empson, Chatto & 
Windus, London, and Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York, © 1949, 1977. 

R. E. Wycherly, The Stones of Athens, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ, 1978. Copyrigf 
© 1978 by Princeton University Press. 

F. M. Cornford ,Microcosmographia Academica, Bowes & Bowes, Cambridge, 1908. Reprintec 
by permission of The BodleyHead, London. 

C. M. Woodhouse, The Philhellenes, Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1969. Copyright © 1969 b) 
C.M. Woodhouse. 

Harold Nicolson, ‘The Byron Curse Echoes Again’, New York Times Magazine, 27 March 1949. 

Luigi Beschi (contributor), Dr Helmut Kyrieleis (ed.) and Philip von Zabern (publisher) for th< 
plan and other material reproduced in Appendix I, adapted from Archaische Klassische und 
Griechische Plastik, Mainz, 1986. 

To the memory of Robert Browning 1914-1997 

The Parthenon in History 

Robert Browning 

For close to two and a half millennia the Parthenon has stood on the Acropolis, dominating the city ol 
Athens. A few other buildings, such as the pyramid of Cheops in Egypt, have endured longer. Bui 
none of them displays the architectural complexity and the artistic distinction of the Parthenon. And 
none possesses the rich associations and the symbolic values which the Parthenon has acquired in the 
course of centuries. It is no accident that when the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultura 
Organisation (unesco) was established after World War II it chose as its emblem the facade of the 
Parthenon. Nor was it by chance that when in 1897 the citizens of Nashville, Tennessee, wished to 
build in their Centennial Park a replica of a famous building, one which would symbolise their owe 
aspirations and recall the principles which inspired the founders of the Union and those who saved it 
from disintegration, they chose the Parthenon. Nothing, they believed, would better represent the righl 
to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and government of the people by the people for the 
people. Few of those who made that choice had ever seen the Parthenon, but they knew what it was 
and what it meant. 

A century earlier a similar project had met with less success. In the years after Waterloo a 
proposal was made to erect a Scottish National Monument on Calton Hill in Edinburgh. After som 
acrimonious exchanges in the pages of the Quarterly Review and the Edinburgh Review between the 
partisans of gothic and classical architecture, it was finally decided to build a full-size replica of the 
Parthenon, sculptures and all, which was to be both a Scottish Pantheon and ‘a place of divine 
worship’. An Enabling Act was passed by Parliament in July 1822, and on 27 August the foundatior 
stone was laid by the Duke of Hamilton in the presence of King George IV However, enthusiasn 
soon waned and money ran out. Only twelve columns of the west peristyle, with their cornice, were 
completed. They still stand, gaunt and forlorn, a mute witness to Scottish philhellenism and to 
Scottish caution, not to say parsimony. 

A brief survey of the fortunes of the Parthenon since it was built, and of the role which it has 
played in the art, thought and feeling of succeeding generations, may add a historical dimension to the 
theme of the present book. 

In 448 BC the Athenian assembly voted to employ its accumulated surplus revenue to rebuild the 
temple of the warrior-goddess Athena, which stood on the highest point of the Acropolis, dominating 
the city and its surrounding countryside. It was probably intended in the first place as a memorial to 
those who had fallen in the wars against Persia more than a generation earlier. The old temple of 
Athena had been begun just before or just after the battle of Marathon in 490 bc but had been razed to 
the ground by the Persians during their brief occupation of Athens in 480 bc. 

But the decision to rebuild the ravaged monuments of the Acropolis was not mere brooding on the 
past. It was concerned with the present and the future too. Athens was now at the height of her 
political power. A treaty had been made with the Persians which guaranteed the Greek cities against 
outside interference and so fulfilled the purpose for which the Delian League, headed by Athens, had 

been founded after the Persian wars. Athens, however, was more than a locus of power. It was also 
the undisputed centre of an astounding intellectual and artistic awakening, which has marked the 
subsequent history of Europe and of the world. It was in fifth-century Greece, and above all ir 
Athens, that men first reflected in a rigorous and yet imaginative way on the nature of knowledge, on 
the principles which guide human conduct, on the significance of their own past, on the way the 
universe was composed and how it worked. The very words logic, philosophy, ethics, history, 
physics are Greek. Athens was the first society which sought to solve the great problems of 
reconciling power with justice, social cohesion with individual freedom, and the pursuit of 
excellence with equality of opportunity. Politics and democracy are Greek words too. When work or 
the Parthenon began Aeschylus was recently dead, Sophocles and Euripides were at the height ol 
their powers - the Antigone was produced as the foundations were being laid, the Medea a year after 
the temple was completed. Socrates as a young man watched the Parthenon rise, and very probably 
took part in its construction, since he was a stonemason and sculptor by trade. Polygnotus, whom 
Theophrastus called ‘the inventor of painting’, painted his great fresco of the capture of Troy in the 
Stoa Poikile, overlooking the Agora in Athens, shortly before work began on the Parthenon. The new 
temple was to be the visible token and embodiment of the confidence and pride with which the 
generation of Pericles faced the world, and an inspiration to others, present and future. Like the greal 
funeral oration which the historian Thucydides put in the mouth of Pericles, it was to be ar 
everlasting monument to a unique and dazzling society. 

Work was begun on the new building in 447 BC, and it was completed in 432 BC. We do nol 
know much about the detailed arrangements for its construction. The moving spirits were Pericles, 
reelected year after year to political leadership, and Phidias the sculptor, who had recently made the 
colossal statue of Athena Promachos which stood at the entrance to the Acropolis, and who was soon 
to work on the temple of Zeus at Olympia. He seems to have been the artistic director of the whole 
Periclean building programme. The principal architect was Iktinos, who had earlier designed the 
temple of Apollo at Bassae in Arcadia. ‘In some sense,’ writes Wycherly, ‘the Parthenon must have 
been the work of a committee. In a very real sense it was the work of the whole Athenian people, not 
merely because hundreds of them had a hand in building it, but because the assembly was ultimately 
responsible, co nfi rmed appointments, and sanctioned and scrutinised the expenditure of every 

Pericles’ political opponents were, or pretended to be, indignant at the public expenditure 
involved and the raids made on funds originally contributed by Athens’s allies for defence against the 
Persians. Pericles, they said, ‘was decking out our city like a wanton woman, decorating her with 
costly stones and thousand-talent temples’. The opposition received little support. Pericles was 
reelected again and again by his fellow citizens. 


1. Parthenon 

2. Erechtheion 
j. Pandroeeion 

4. Athena Promachos 

5. Propylau 

6. Altar 

7. Sanctuary ot'Pandion 

8. Temple of Athena Nike 

9. Chalkotheke 

10. Sanctuary of Artemis Btauronia 

11. House of the Arrephoroi 

12. Beule Gate 

13. Odeion of Herodes Attic us 

14. Stoa ofEumenes 

15. Asklepieion 

16. Ionic Stoa 

17. Nikias Monument 

18. Thrasyllce Monument 

19. Penpatc« 

20. Theatre of Dionjvoe 

This reconstruction of the fifth century AD was done by J. Travlos in 1978 and is reproduced by kind permission of Professor Travlos. At 
the top left is the Erechtheion with, on its near waif the celebrated caryatid porch. 

The Parthenon is a Doric peripteral amphiprostyle temple; that is, it has a row of Doric columns 
on either side and a double row in the porches at either end. It is built entirely of white Pentelic 
marble from Attica. The dimensions of the stylobate, or platform, are 69.51 metres by 30.86 metres (a 
proportion of 9 to 4, which recurs in other features of the building). There were originally fifty-eight 
columns, seventeen on either side, eight at either end, and six in the inner row in each porch. There 
was also an interior colonnade supporting the roof, of which a few traces still remain. The temple 
was divided into two chambers, the cella on the east, in which stood Phidias’ gold and ivory statue of 
Athena, 12 metres high, and the opisthodomos on the west, in which the treasures of the goddess and 
the city were stored. There was no internal communication between the two chambers. The sculptures 
comprised triangular pediments at either end, with statues in the round representing the birth of 
Athena and her contest with Poseidon for the land of Attica, ninety-two metopes in high relief (thirty- 
two on each side, fourteen on each end) showing scenes from Greek mythology and legend of special 
Athenian interest, and a frieze in low relief 160 metres long depicting the procession to the temple at 
the Panathenaic festival. Metopes and frieze were part of the structure of the building and nol 
decoration added after its completion. 

‘The Parthenon’, writes Wycherly, ‘is the culmination of Greek architecture.’ The subtle 
refinements which exploit the distortions of human vision have only recently been frilly observed and 

understood. It is also the culmination of Greek sculpture, far surpassing in both the quality and the 
quantity of its decoration any other building of the classical age. Building and sculpture were 
conceived and executed as part of a common plan. The importance of the Parthenon as a pan-Hellenic 
and not merely as an Athenian monument was recognised by Alexander the Great, who after his 
victory over the Persians by the river Granicus had twenty Persian shields suspended as votive 
offerings beneath the pediments of the temple. 

The builders of the Parthenon built well. Little damage was done over the centuries by seismic 
activity, military operations or weather. However, a fire in the second century bc destroyed or 
damaged much of the interior, including the interior colonnade, the ceiling and the cult statue. The 
temple was restored, with a new statue modelled on the original, in 165-160 BC, probably by King- 
Antiochus of Syria, in whose eyes the Parthenon was evidently a monument of more than loca] 
significance. Three centuries later Plutarch found in the sculptures both an aura of antiquity and the 
immediacy and freshness of youth, while for Pausanias, around 200 ad, the Parthenon was one of the 
‘sights’ of Athens. In 362-363 the emperor Julian undertook extensive repairs as part of his campaign 
to re-establish pagan religion in an ever more Christian world. He had spent some time in Athens as a 
student, and knew and loved the city and its venerable monuments. 

Some time in the fifth century ad, probably in the reign of Theodosius II (408^150), the Parthenor 
was closed by order of the government in Constantinople. Proclus, the head of the Academy and one 
of the last great Neo-Platonist philosophers, lamented that he could no longer enter the temple to pray. 
Shortly afterwards it was converted, like many other pagan temples, into a Christian church, 
dedicated to the Holy Wisdom. This involved considerable adaptation. An apse was built at the easl 
end, incorporating two of the prostyle columns and blocking the entrance to the cella. The building 
could now be entered only through the opisthodomos, which served as the narthex or porch of the 
church. Three doorways were cut through the wall between the opisthodomos and the cella. In this 
way the orientation of the building was reversed to accord with Christian usage. The floor was raised 
at the east end to form a chancel, upon which was set an altar surmounted by a baldachino supported 
by four porphyry columns. Round the inside of the apse ran a semicircular synthronon or raised bench 
for the clergy, with a marble throne for the bishop in the middle (perhaps that now in the storeroom of 
the Acropolis Museum). Whether there ever was a women’s gallery is uncertain. The roof, which may 
have been in poor repair, was raised along the central axis of the building, and clerestory windows 
were set between the new and the old roof sections to provide internal illumination. The occasional, 
apparently deliberate, defacement of sculptured figures was probably the work of over-zealous 
Christians at this time; but there was no systematic defacement. 

The interior of the new church may well have been decorated with mosaics and/or paintings, 
either directly on the marble of the walls or in fresco on a layer of plaster. There are faint traces of 
painting on parts of the walls. But virtually nothing is known of the early Christian decoration, which 
in any case may have been removed or plastered over during the prevalence of iconoclasm in the 
eighth and early ninth centuries. 

The Parthenon continued in use as a Christian church for a thousand years. During this long perioc 
minor modifications and repairs were carried out. Some burials took place within or immediately 
adjacent to the building, probably in the early period of Christian use. From 694 until 1204 notices ol 
the deaths of the bishops and archbishops of Athens were carved high up on some of the peristyle 
columns. In 1018 the emperor Basil II came to Athens to give thanks for his victory over the Bui gars - 
and perhaps to seek forgiveness for his savage treatment of his prisoners. He made many valuable 

gifts to the church of the Holy Wisdom. A celebrated mosaic of the Virgin in the apse dates from the 
early eleventh century, and may well have been executed under the patronage of Basil. A 
reproduction of it figures on the seals of the archbishops of Athens from the eleventh century on. The 
mosaic itself seems to have been severely damaged by Frankish soldiers in 1204; no doubt they 
believed its gilt glass cubes were gold. Towards the end of the twelfth century the archbishop 
Michael Choniates ‘beautified’ - the word is his own - the church, of which he was fiercely proud. 
The mural paintings of which faint traces were still visible early in the twentieth century were 
perhaps part of his ‘beautification’. An icon in the church was believed to have been painted by Saint 
Luke. An Icelandic pilgrim in the early twelfth century describes a miraculous lamp set before the 
altar which burned constantly without refilling. 

In 1204, as a result of the Fourth Crusade, Athens passed into the hands of the first of a series ol 
western rulers, the Burgundian de la Roches. The Parthenon was taken over by Latin clergy with c 
French bishop at their head, and became the church of Our Lady of Athens. They made little change ir 
the appearance of the building. We hear of restoration of silver plates on the doors which had been 
removed in the mid-fourteenth century to pay Navarrese mercenary soldiers. A small tower was 
added over the west front. Some scholars believe that this tower was in fact built before 1204. Bui 
the Latins, if they did not build the lower square section, certainly added an upper cylindrical section. 
The new rulers were not entirely insensitive to the beauty of what they had inherited from antiquity. 
King Pedro IV of Aragon, then titular Duke of Athens, in 1380 described the Acropolis, of which the 
Parthenon is the most notable monument, as ‘the richest jewel in the world, of which every king in 
Christendom would be envious’. It was in the last days of Latin rule that the first western classical 
archaeologist, Cyriac of Ancona, twice visited the Parthenon, in 1436 and 1447. He knew something 
of its origin and history. In his notebooks and letters he provides brief but ecstatic descriptions of the 
temple, accompanied by somewhat impressionistic drawings. 

In 1458 the Frankish garrison on the Acropolis surrendered to the Ottoman Turks. Shortly 
afterwards Sultan Mehmed II, the conqueror of Constantinople, visited Athens and expressed hit 
admiration of its ancient monuments. During the period of Turkish rule, the Acropolis was a fortress 
occupied by Turkish troops and not easily accessible to visitors. The Parthenon became a mosque for 
the use of the garrison. Its mosaics and frescoes were whitewashed or plastered over. The Turkish 
traveller Evliya Chelebi ( c . 1667) provides the only reliable and detailed account of the interior of 
the building at this period. ‘We have seen mosques all over the world’, he writes, ‘but its peer we 
have not seen.’ Both the baldachino on its porphyry columns and the marble bishop’s throne - which 
Evliya believed to be the throne of Plato - were still in place and undamaged. 

The earliest descriptions of Athens by post-Renaissance western visitors belong to the period ol 
Turkish occupation. In particular, the drawings of the Acropolis and its building made in 1674 for 
Louis XIV’s ambassador, the Marquis de Nointel, show the exteriorof the Parthenon and its 
sculptures in faithful detail. They were once attributed to Jacques Carrey of Troyes, and are offer 
referred to as the Carrey drawings, though it is now certain that they are the work of an anonymous 
artist. The descriptions and illustrations by the French doctor and antiquarian Jacques Spon of Lyons 
and his travelling companion the English botanist George Wheler, who visited Athens in 1676 with a 
letter of recommendation from the Marquis de Nointel, are of particular interest, since they were 
allowed to enter the Parthenon. Their account of their travels in Greece was published in Lyons ir 
1678 in three richly illustrated folio volumes; 178 pages of the second volume are devoted to Athens. 

In 1687 a Venetian army, made up almost entirely of mercenaries, besieged Athens in a vain 
attempt to drive the Turks from Greece. On 26 September, during a bombardment of the Acropolis by 

the Swedish Count Koenigsmark, a mortar bomb penetrated the roof of the Parthenon and caused the 
supplies of gunpowder which the Turks had stored in the building to explode. A few days later the 
city surrendered to the Venetians. The damage done to the Parthenon was extensive. The middle 
portions of the long side colonnades and the columns of the east porch were brought down; the upper 
part of the cella walls was largely destroyed; the interior colonnade was overthrown. During the two 
years of Venetian occupation further damage was caused by the removal of sculptures. The Venetian 
commander Francesco Morosini, eager to emulate Doge Enrico Dandolo, who in 1204 had brough 
from Constantinople the four bronze horses now adorning the facade of the basilica of San Marco, 
tried to bring down the sculptures of the west pediment of the Parthenon. Their weight was too greal 
for the equipment at the disposal of his engineers, and he succeeded only in smashing most of them. 
Two small pieces now in Copenhagen were picked up by a Danish officer in the Venetian service. A 
head of a Lapith found buried in the mud at Piraeus in 1870 was probably accidentally dropped 
overboard by a member of Morosini’s army. 

In the late eighteenth century the Comte de Choiseul-Gouffier, French ambassador to Turkey 
acquired a piece of the east frieze and a metope from the south side of the building, as well as other 
fragments of lesser importance; these were probably detached by the explosion of 1687 and were 
lying on the ground. His efforts to obtain by bribery of officials more substantial specimens of the 
Parthenon sculptures met with failure. This did not diminish his enthusiasm for classical Greek art. 
and in 1790 he suggested to the Polish Diet that a replica of the Parthenon be erected in Warsaw to 
celebrate the new Polish constitution. The English traveller J. R. S. Morritt tried to buy one of th< 
metopes in 1795, but found the Turks unwilling to sell anything. He observed that fifteen metopes 
were still in place on the south side of the building and in a good state of preservation. 

The Parthenon could no longer serve as a mosque after the Venetian bombardment. But some time 
between 1689 and 1755 a small mosque was built without any foundations inside the cella walls. It 
was not finally demolished until a large part of it collapsed in 1842. 

In 1799 Thomas Bruce, seventh Earl of Elgin, was appointed British ambassador to the Ottomai 
government. A detailed account of his activities in Athens is given elsewhere in this book. A 
summary will suffice here. His original intentions seem to have been unclear - drawing and 
modelling the Parthenon sculptures, or removing specimens of them whether they had already fallen to 
the ground or were still in place on the building. He found himself in a position of unexampled 
opportunity, since after the defeat of the French fleet by Lord Nelson in the battle of the Nile ir 
August 1798 the Sultan looked to Britain to protect the Ottoman Empire against the French. As < 
result Elgin was able to obtain a firman from the Sultan’s ministers authorising him to make casts and 
drawings of the sculptures in place on ‘the temple of the idols’, to excavate around the building for 
fragments, and to remove ‘some pieces of stone with inscriptions or figures’. A former Keeper of 
Greek and Roman Antiquities in the British Museum suggested that it is doubtful if this firman 
authorised Elgin to demolish any part of the structure of the Parthenon to obtain sculptures. Armed 
with this astonishingly vague document, however, he removed and sent to England fifty slabs and two 
half-slabs of the frieze and fifteen metopes - all that he considered worth taking, as he says. In the 
course of this he caused serious damage to the building by sawing through the frieze slabs, removing 
the cornice in order to detach the metopes, breaking the entablature on which they rested, removing 
marble slabs from the pavement, etc. In a later statement Elgin declared that it was only when he 
came to Athens and saw the danger that threatened the sculptures that he decided to remove them to 
ensure their preservation. But in fact his men were removing sculptures and packing them for 
despatch six months before his first and only visit to Athens in early summer 1802. His unprecedented 

privileges seem to have gradually led him morally and aesthetically out of his depth. As related 
elsewhere in this book, new evidence has recently cast doubt on whether the original firman was 
properly issued. Be that as it may, the end result was that the Parthenon was despoiled of the greater 
part of its sculptured decoration. The marbles were sold by Elgin in 1816 to the British governmeni 
after a Parliamentary Committee had recommended their purchase, and then presented by the 
government to the British Museum. 

During the Greek War of Independence the Acropolis was twice besieged, by the Greeks ir 
1821-22, and by the Turks in 1826-27. Superficial damage was caused to the buildings during both 
sieges. The Greeks were aware of their dilemma. Colonel Voutier, a French philhellene who 
commanded a battery of Greek artillery during the first siege, had qualms about destroying the 
monuments; and in 1822 JohnColetis, Minister for War in the Greek revolutionary government, wrote 
to him asking him to try to preserve the antiquities and in particular the Parthenon. In the meantime the 
Turkish garrison of the Acropolis began to break the surviving walls of the cella to get at the lead 
shielding of the clamps and melt it down for bullets. The Greek besiegers sent a message offering to 
give them bullets if they would leave the Parthenon undamaged. 

For three years from 1824 to 1826 the Parthenon housed a school for Greek girls whose fathers 
were fighting in the War of Independence. After the Turks recaptured the Acropolis in 1827 they 
remained in occupation until 1833, when they handed over to a Bavarian garrison. It was not until 18 
March 1835 that the Acropolis came under the jurisdiction of the newly formed Greek 
Archaeological Service, which has been responsible for all conservation, excavation and restoration 
since then. 

When the Archaeological Service took it over, the Parthenon was in a sorry state. Yet its 
importance was universally recognised. In 1837 the Greek Archaeological Society was founded, and 
its first meeting was held in the ruins of the Parthenon. It was on that occasion that Iakovos Rizoe 
Neroulos, the first president of the society, pointed to the crumbling buildings and the heaps of 
masonry and said, ‘These stones are more precious than rubies or agates. It is to these stones that we 
owe our rebirth as a nation.’ The Parthenon has been and is for almost all Greeks the symbol par 
excellence of their national identity, of their links with the past, and of the contribution that they and 
their forefathers have made to the civilisation in which we all share. 

The first tasks that faced the Archaeological Service were the dismantling of the medieval and 
modern buildings that cluttered the Acropolis (this was sometimes done with more enthusiasm than 
discretion, in accordance with the archaeological practice of the time) and the identification of fallen 
portions of ancient structures. Then further excavation, repair and strengthening of the monuments, and 
the restoration of fallen or misplaced stones to their former positions (anastylosis). This work has 
gone on without interruption to the present day. A by-product of it was the creation of the Acropolis 
Museum, where all material from sites on the Acropolis is stored and displayed. 

In 1894 an earthquake shook the Acropolis and caused much public concern for the safety of the 
ancient monuments. A thorough and long-term programme of repair and maintenance was drawn up, 
which was not completed till the 1930s. Many small fragments of structure and decoration were 
discovered and identified. Numerous cracks and displacements in the fabric of the Parthenon were 
repaired and further anastylosis carried out. Unfortunately many of the repairs then executed made use 
of iron clamps, as the technology of the time recommended. The subsequent rusting and swelling of 
those clamps has caused many problems. It is worth noting that the original builders of the Par the nor 
wrapped their iron clamps in lead to prevent rusting. 

These problems were aggravated by the atmospheric pollution which accompanied increasing 
industrialisation and affluence. A report by UNESCO experts in 1971 emphasised the urgency of a 
radical programme of conservation. In 1975, after the restoration of democracy in Greece, a planning 
committee was set up by the then Minister of Culture, Professor Constantine Trypanis. Its first tasl 
was to establish the facts. In 1977 the planning committee was expanded and became a permanent 
Committee for the Preservation of the Monuments of the Acropolis. The committee drew on the 
advice and help of archaeologists, architects, engineers, chemists and others in many countries in 
formulating a long-term programme based on the most advanced technology. The details of this 
programme, which will take many years to complete, are discussed elsewhere in this book. Here I 
would like only to emphasise the quality of the care which is being given to the rock of the Acropolis 
itself, to its monuments, and to the Parthenon in particular. Greece is not a rich country, and it has 
more than its share of antiquities. But no expense and no effort is being spared to stabilise, conserve, 
and where possible to restore the greatest masterpiece of Greek architecture and sculpture - in the 
words of A. W. Lawrence, ‘the one building in the world which may be assessed as absolutely right’. 
Throughout the work of restoration and conservation, the principle is being observed that nothing 
must be done which cannot be undone without damage. 

The Parthenon was built by Greeks and belongs to Greece. But it also, in a sense, belongs to the 
whole world. The world may rest assured that it is in good hands. Those who had the good fortune to 
see the exhibition of conservation, restoration and research on the Acropolis, which was shown in 
Athens, Moscow, London and Amsterdam between September 1983 and January 1986, will have 
realised that the work now being carried out not only makes use of the latest results of scientific 
research, but also inspires those engaged in it to give their love as well as their skill. They know that 
they are the trustees for their people and for the whole world. 

If the sculptures removed by Lord Elgin two hundred years ago can be returned to Athens, this 
will be a just and generous counterpart to the work of the Greek authorities and of the experts and 
craftsmen now working on the Acropolis. Whether any of them can or should be replaced in their 
original positions is a question for the technology and the taste of future generations. In the meantime 
they can be preserved and displayed in the new museum to be built at the foot of the Acropolis. It has 
recently been announced that the design of this building will be the subject of a competition open to 
architects of all nations. It will thus be possible to see the whole of what remains of the Parthenon al 
the cost of a five-minute walk rather than a 1500-mile journey. The Parthenon has been there for a 
long time, and it will still be there long after the writer and the readers of these words have 
mouldered to dust and their very names are forgotten. The building and its sculptures were conceived 
and executed together. They will be better understood and appreciated if they can be seen together. 

Suggestions for Further Reading 

Many, though not all, of the topics of the present article are dealt with in two books: 

B. F. Cook, The Elgin Marbles, London: British Museum Publications, 1984. 

J. Baelen, La Chronique du Parthenon, Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1956. 

On the building of the Parthenon and its significance in the age of Pericles: 

Susan Woodford, The Parthenon, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980. 

J. Boardman, The Parthenon and its Sculptures, London: Thames & Hudson, 1985 (magnificentl) 


G. T. W. Hooker (ed.), Parthenos and Parthenon. Supplement to Greece and Rome 10 (1963). A 
collection of studies on the religious, political and cultural background. 

R. E. Wycherly, The Stones of Athens, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978, eh. IV A briei 
but perceptive study of the building and its sculptures and the political background to the 
construction of the temple. 

E. Berger (ed JParthenon-Kongress Basel, 2 vols, Mainz: Von Zabern, 1984. Papers, mainly in 
English or German, delivered at a congress inaugurating the collection of casts of all the 
Parthenon sculptures in the Antikenmuseum, Basel. 

On the significance of the Parthenon today: 

David Lowenthal, The Past is a Foreign Country, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985. 

On early western visitors to the Parthenon: 

Fani-Maria Tsigakou, The Rediscovery of Greece, London: Thames & Hudson, 1981. 

On Lord Elgin’s acquisition of the Marbles: 

Russell Chamberlin, Loot, London: Thames & Hudson, 1983. 

A. H. Smith, ‘Lord Elgin and his Collection’ Journal of Hellenic Studies 36 (1916), pp. 163-372. A 
fully documented study of fundamental importance. 

W. St Clair, Lord Elgin and the Marbles, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967 (reptd 1983). A narrative 
account set in a historical framework, and largely, though not exclusively, based on the material 
collected by A. H. Smith. 

T. Vrettos, A Shadow of Magnitude: The Acquisition of the Elgin Marbles New York: Putnam, 
1974. A more critical account from a Greek standpoint. 

On the Nashville replica of the Parthenon: 

W. F. Creighton, The Parthenon in Nashville, Nashville: privately published, 1968. 

On the Edinburgh Parthenon project: 

G. Cleghorn , Remarks on the Intended Restoration of the Parthenon as the National Monument o 
Scotland, Edinburgh: privately published, 1824. 

The Elgin Marbles 

Christopher Hitchens 

On a day in September 1802 a small group of Greeks, Turks and Englishmen assembled on the 
Acropolis. They had come to witness the removal of a metope from the structure of the Parthenon; a 
carved panel depicting a woman being borne off by a centaur. Present for the occasion were Edward 
Daniel Clarke, author of Travels in Various Countries of Europe, Asia and Africa , Giovanni Battista 
Lusieri, the Italian painter charged by Lord Elgin to oversee the removal of the sculpture to England 
and the Disdar, an Ottoman Turkish official representing the occupying forces. As Clarke described 
the ensuing scene: 

After a short time spent in examining the several parts of the temple, one of the workmen came to inform Don Battista that they 
were then going to lower one of the metopes. We saw this fine piece of sculpture raised from its station between the triglyphs; 
but the workmen endeavouring to give it a position adapted to the projected line of descent, a part of the adjoining masonry was 
loosened by the machinery; and down came the fine masses of Pentelican marble, scattering their white fragments with 
thundering noise among the rains ... 

The Disdar, who beheld the mischief done to the building, took his pipe out of his mouth, dropped a tear, and in a supplicating 
tone of voice said to Lusieri, ‘TeLog’ [‘It is finished’]. 

Lusieri described the same moment in a letter to his master dated 16 September 1802: 

I have, my Lord, the pleasure of announcing to you the possession of the 8th metope, that one where there is the Centaur 
carrying off the woman. This piece has caused much trouble in all respects, and I have even been obliged to be a little barbarous. 

This incident marks the beginning of the dispute over the Parthenon marbles. Most of the essentia] 
disagreements began even as Lord Elgin’s men were at work. On one side was the human, immediate 
reaction to desecration. On the other, the satisfaction of a ticklish job well done. The first style is 
fervent, even emotional, whereas the second is euphemistic, emollient and phlegmatic. If Lusieri had 
not been the Italian and Clarke the Anglo-Saxon, caricatures of national sentiment would receive a 
strong reinforcement from the contrast. 

But Lusieri was working for, and accountable to, Thomas Bruce, seventh Earl of Elgin anc 
eleventh Earl of Kincardine. Under the terms of his acquisition of the statuary and sculpture, and 
under the terms of his disposal of it, Lord Elgin has made his own name indissoluble from the 
artefacts. To this day the British Museum is obliged by statute to refer to his collection as ‘the Elgir 
Marbles’. This association between the collector and his collection is of some psychological 
importance. We laugh at ‘Roman Polanski’s Macbeth' and ‘Ken Russell’s Mahler’, and lampoon 
them for the cultural trompe-l’oeils that they are. We grant Michelangelo’s Pieta and Leonardo’s 
Mona Lisa. But those who insist on ‘the Elgin Marbles’ are in some sense assuming what has to be 

The marbles have become a species of test case. If possession is not nine points of the law, how 
many is it, or should it be? Can we continue to justify an act - the amputation of sculpture from a 
temple - that would be execrated if committed today? And are there any standards, apart from 

national egoism or entrepreneurial reach, that should govern the apportionment of cultural property? 

All these issues, which have recently been impressed on the British and to a lesser extent the 
Greek public, are as old as the separation of the marbles from the Parthenon and perhaps older. In the 
course of the argument there has been eloquent testimony from Lord Byron, Thomas Hardy, Nicos 
Kazantzakis, Constantine Cavafy, John Keats, George Seferis and many others. As the years haw 
elapsed, also, considerable new evidence has become available to scholars. 

The essential points, however, have always been perfectly intelligible to anyone with an eye for 
form or beauty. The argument would not be worth having if it merely involved the amour propre of 
governments, states and trustees. It may be worth, for a start, comparing and considering the two 
places which any student of the Greek style is compelled to visit. 


I. The Acropolis 

Philhellenes have been known to accentuate the superlative, but very few historians can be found to 
dispute the salience of fifth-century bc Athens. The Periclean age is a subject of widely differing 
interpretations. Some critics point to the imperialist and predatory character of the Athenians and 
others to the imperfections of their ‘democracy’. But the immense achievements of the period are 
undeniable and do not owe any of their pre-eminence to myth. It is difficult to dissociate the period 
from the name of Pericles, as even his detractors obliquely concede. Educated by Damon, Zeno anc 
Anaxagoras, he may have had a weakness for overseas adventures and he has been accused of 
pandering overmuch to the majority, but clearly he did not refuse to learn from his errors and defeats. 
He instituted an equitable social contract whereby - to the rage of his enemies - jurymen, soldiers 
and public servants were remunerated from the city treasury. The drama was subsidised and the 
standing of women slightly ameliorated. In return for this Pericles demanded a high standard of public 
spirit and called upon that sense of balance and symmetry which Thucydides immortalised in his 
funeral oration. 

Here, ideally, the laws inspire rather than exact obedience; merit is the standard, and efficiency in 
military matters is not held to be antithetical to commerce or art. Pericles seems to have made some 
attempt to live his own precepts and to cultivate the idea of the whole man. A friend to Sophocles and 
Herodotus and a patron to Attic art, he (and his friend Phidias the sculptor) had to fight one greal 
domestic battle against the ‘practical, no-nonsense’ men of his day. 

About the year 450 bc Pericles proposed a decree to the Athenian assembly whereby money 
hitherto devoted to warring against Persia could be employed in the rebuilding of the temples and 
monuments destroyed in the second Persian war. Though a puritan outcry was raised against this 
proposal, it carried the assembly for reasons hinted at by Plutarch, who wrote in his Pericles that: 

The house and home contingent, no whit less than the sailors and sentinels and soldiers, might have a pretext for getting a 
beneficial share of the public wealth. The materials to be used were stone, bronze, ivory, gold, ebony and cypress-wood; the arts 
which should elaborate and work up these materials were those of carpenter, moulder, bronze-smith, stone-cutter, dyer, veneerer 
in gold and ivory, painter, embroiderer, embosser, to say nothing of the forwarders and furnishers of the material ... it came to 
pass that for every age almost, and every capacity, the city’s great abundance was distributed and shared by such demands. 

The centrepiece of the undertaking, a temple to Pallas Athena, thus called upon the skills and talents 

of every sector of the city. The name Phidias has come down to us as the Attic genius of sculpture, but 
he had immense resources at his disposal. So did the architect Iktinos, who was able to continue 
modifying his design as the work progressed. According to Professor J. M. Cook in his account of the 
Parthenon’s construction, ‘Practically every block in it is unique so as to fit the tilts and curvatures. 
Such extravagance could never be afforded again.’ And, as he also puts it, ‘the Parthenon style is the 
classical style par excellence. In the outcome, for better or worse, local styles of sculpture in Greece 
vanished. With artists now drilled in a common tradition, European art was set on a highway; and 
from Athens sculptors carried it beyond the limits of the Greek lands.’ 

In common with many great aesthetic innovations, the strength of this style lay as much in its purity 
and simplicity as in the loving detail and lavish decoration of its design. The idea is balance and 
symmetry, summed up in the triad of the metopes, the frieze and the pediments. No constituent of this 
edifice was new in itself, but the Parthenon raised each to a new level and to a new and more subtle 
relation with the others. The Parthenon had eight columns at the end instead of the usual six, and was 
able to accommodate a larger space for pedimental sculpture. Each of the ninety-two metopes is 
carved - an innovation for a building of this magnitude; and thus there is (or there was) a continuous 
frieze unique in Doric architecture. 

The frieze, in low relief, and the metopes, in high relief, have afforded enormous scope for 
theorists of classical form and metaphor. The number of figures on the frieze is 192, which happens to 
be the exact number of the city’s heroes who perished at Marathon. It may be argued that the 
procession represents the gods convened to greet them. Or the retinue may represent the Panathenaic 
procession, a votive occasion when Athens would have been en fete for its virgin goddess and 
patron. There is no reason, of course, why the frieze should not bear both interpretations. 

As for the metopes, one can do no better than quote the slightly effusive reaction of the English 
painter Benjamin Robert Haydon, who first saw them in 1808 and was to become one of their greatesi 

The first thing I fixed my eyes on, was a wrist of a figure in one of the female groups, in which were visible, though in a feminine 
form, the radius and ulna. I was astonished, for I had never seen them hinted at in any female wrist in the antique. I darted my 
eye to the elbow, and saw the outer condyle visibly affecting the shape as in nature. I saw that the arm was in repose and the 
soft parts in relaxation ... But when I turned to the Theseus, and saw that every form was altered by action or repose - when I 
saw that the two sides of his back varied, one side stretched from the shoulder blade being pulled forward, and the other side 
compressed from the shoulder blade being pushed close to the spine, as he rested on his elbow, with the belly flat because the 
bowels fell into the pelvis as he sat - and when, turning to the Uyssus, I saw the belly protrude from the figure lying on its side - 
and again, when in the figure of the fighting metope I saw the muscle shown under the one armpit in that instantaneous action of 
darting out, and left out in the other armpits because not wanted - when I saw, in fact, the most heroic style of art, combined with 
all the essential details of actual life, the thing was done at once, and for ever. 

Haydon would probably never have seen the marbles, or taken his friend John Keats to see them, iJ 
they had not been removed to London. (Let no one say that there have not been some excellent 
consequences of their separation.) The point is that more than two millennia after their creation the 
Parthenon sculptures had, and have, the power to evoke this sort of feeling. Clearly they could have 
this effect upon a person wholly ignorant of their provenance. But much of their fascination must also 
derive from their unchallengeable character as the summa of Periclean Athens. Is it even too romantic 
or too fanciful to view them as a partial embodiment of the Periclean ideal, with its injunction that 
‘each single one of our citizens, in all the manifold aspects of life, is able to show himself the rightful 
owner of his own person and to do this, moreover, with exceptional grace and exceptional 
versatility’? Ever since a large portion of the frieze and a significant number of the metopes were 
wrenched away from the parent building, there has been an aesthetic revulsion against the 


In some part this derives from the common knowledge that balance, lightness and wholeness are 
the chiefartistic legacy from the Athens of that time. 

Since its original dedication to Athena, the Parthenon has undergone many indignities. It was 
closed and desolate in the fifth century after Christ. It became a Christian church under the Byzantines 
and was the site of the thanksgiving service held by the emperor Basil II in 1018 after his blood) 
revenge on the Bui gars. After the Turkish conquest in 1458 the Parthenon was transformed into a 
mosque and a minaret was added to its southwest corner. The Erechtheion became the commandant’s 

The suzerainty of Christian Venice was perhaps the most ruinous of all. Under the command ol 
Francesco Morosini, the Venetian forces laid siege to the Acropolis in September 1687 and one ol 
their salvoes ignited a powder magazine which the Turks kept in the Parthenon. The resulting damage 
to the building was tragic and irreparable. Subsequent events did little to redeem Morosini’s 
reputation; having employed stones from the ancient monuments to repair the city walls, he attempted 
to remove the central sculptures of the Parthenon’s west pediment in order to take them home with 
him to Venice (an act which if successful would not, one hopes, have qualified him as a rescuer of 
antiquity even in the eyes of Venetian pamphleteers). His workmen were casual and callous; their 
clumsiness allowed the statues to fall and shatter, whereupon the shards were left where they lay. 

Perhaps the most grotesque blasphemy to befall the Parthenon was in the present century. 
Although it was undamaged by the Nazi occupation of the city, the building was made to display a 
swastika flag as a symbol of Hitler’s ‘New Order’ in Europe. I once had the privilege of shaking the 
hand of Manolis Glezos, who tore the offending emblem away on 31 May 1941, and thereby helped tc 
ignite the Greek national resistance. 

A pagan shrine, a church, a mosque, an arms dump, a monument to Nazi profanity and a target for 
promiscuous collectors of all kinds ... It is a wonder that the Parthenon still stands. But none of its 
vicissitudes or mutilations has altered its essential character as the great surviving testimony of the 
Periclean age. This makes it precious to the Greeks, but also to human civilisation, however 
considered. Of the various depredations that the building has endured, only one can be put right - and 
that one imperfectly. 

2. Bloomsbury 

In her sooty vitals, London stores these marble monuments of the gods, just as some uns milin g Puritan might store in the depths of 
his memory some past erotic moment, blissful and ecstatic sin. (Nicos Kazantzakis, England , 1939.) 

There is probably no more Anglophile book written by a foreign visitor than the travelogue composed 
by Nicos Kazantzakis on the eve of World War II. His conclusion was that England had giver 
humanity the three great benisons of the Gentleman, Magna Carta and Shakespeare. The Gentlemar 
(‘free, at ease, proud and gentle, brave and modest, taciturn, self-controlled’) speaks, as how could 
he not, for himself. So, in their way, do Magna Carta and Shakespeare. Only in the vaults o: 
Bloomsbury did Kazantzakis allow himselfany critical or ungenerous reflections. 

The Parthenon marbles consist of 115 panels of frieze, of which ninety-four are still extant, either 
intact or broken, and of which thirty-six are in the Acropolis Museum Of the original ninety-two 
metopes, thirty-nine are either on the temple or in the Acropolis Museum. One panel of the frieze is ir 
the Louvre. Of the surviving panels of frieze, the British Museum holds fifty-six, and of the surviving 

metopes, fifteen. Bloomsbury also has the care of seventeen pedimental figures, including a caryatid 
and a column from the Erechtheion. In other words, almost half of the surviving sculpture of the 
Parthenon is in London and almost half is in Athens. 

Since the sculptures were carved to adorn a building which still, with some attenuation, survives, 
and since they were carved (most especially the friezes) as a unity of action and representation, this 
state of affairs seems absurd and would certainly be ridiculed if it were being proposed today. Either 
all the marbles could be assembled in one museum in London, or they could be marshalled in a 
museum in Athens next to the Parthenon. But to keep them in two places, one of them quite sundered 
from the Parthenon and its context, seems bizarre and irrational as well as inartistic. 

Since the British are not bizarre or irrational, and since they very much resent the charge ol 
philistinism, there must be another explanation. It is most likely to be found in Bloomsbury, in the vast 
treasure-house of the Museum itself. 

In his poem ‘Homage to the British Museum’ William Empson caught some of the feeling o: 
mingled awe and amusement that can be felt by a respectful but unsubmissive visitor to Great Russell 

There is a Supreme God in the ethnological section; 

A hollow toad shape, faced with a blank shield. 

He needs his belly to include the Pantheon, 

Which is inserted from a hole be hin d. 

At the navel, at the points formally stressed, at the organs of sense, 

Lice glue themselves, dolls, local deities, 

His smooth wood creeps with all the creeds of the world. 

Attending there let us absorb the cultures of nations 
And dissolve into our judgement all their codes. 

Then, being clogged with a natural hesitation 
(People are continually asking one the way out), 

Let us stand here and admit that we have no road. 

Being everything, let us admit that is to be something, 

Or give ourselves the benefit of the doubt; 

Let us offer our pinch of dust all to this God, 

And grant his reign over the entire building. 

Empson felt the weight of the British Museum; its sheer mass and the extraordinary self-confidence 
which it possesses. One is tempted to say that it might be more apt if, like its poor relation south of 
the river, the British Museum called itself the Imperial Museum. But let us offer our pinch of dust anc 
admit that such thoughts are flippant and relativistic. History cannot be unmade. A visitor to the 
British Museum who knew nothing of the British would certainly be able to conclude that this was a 
people who had once enjoyed wide dominions. And so they did, as the possession of the Rosetta 
Stone, the treasures of Babylon and Egypt and countless other exhibits make plain. Well ordered and 
well displayed, the entire trove can be viewed in various ways (and Empson was not the only visitor 
to reflect that it was all, somehow, too much) but it cannot be derided. Here is the evidence of 
guardians who took, and take, their job very seriously indeed. This confidence and impassivity, 
which derive from generations of stewardship, will bear any interpretation of the word 
‘responsibility’. Against it, the gentle raillery of Kazantzakis and the vague impatience of Empson 
seem quite impotent. Yet Kazantzakis was right. There is, in one of the museum’s priceless 
acquisitions, a repressed and guilty secret. It has taken a certain time to come out, but this 
postponement has only enhanced the ‘blissful and ecstatic’ nature of the original sin. 

The Acquisition: 1 

The most complete account of Lord Elgin’s adventure into Greece is also the most sympathetic. Ir 
1916, the Journal of Hellenic Studies gave itself over to an immense and detailed article, ‘Lord 
Elgin and his Collection’, by Arthur Hamilton Smith, then Keeper of Greek and Roman Antiquities a 
the British Museum Smith was a defender of Elgin in both a public and a private capacity. HE 
concern as Keeper was with the integrity of the Museum, and he was a distant relation of the Elgir 
family. His exhaustive essay, nonetheless, is a model of objective and dispassionate scholarship. 
There is only one instance (rather a glaring one, as we shall see) in which partiality may have played 
a role. More impressive, from the standpoint of eight decades later, are the candour and accuracy 
with which Smith approaches his subject. Seldom can any chronicler have more doggedly followed 
the injunction to do the thing ‘warts and all’. 

The unintended effect of Smith’s narrative is felt from the very first page. ‘Lord Elgin, the subjeci 
of this paper, was educated at Harrow (where he stayed for a short time only) and at Westminster ... 
He entered the army in 1785, and without any active military service reached the rank of major 
general in 1835. He was elected a Representative Peer of Scotland in 1790 and continued in tha 
position till 1807.’ There follows a full-length plate of Elgin which would strike most observers as 
distinctly affected and over-posed. It is almost as if Smith wanted to summon a picture of the bored, 
spoiled lordling. Yet nothing could have been further from Smith’s intention. Elgin emerges here as a 
man of considerable determination and address; prone on occasion to self-pity but zealous and 

His great vice was parsimony. Appointed, not without some lobbying on his own part, to the post 
of Ambassador to the Sublime Porte at Constantinople in the year 1799, he decided that his tenure 
would be remembered for its devotion to the fine arts. He conceived the pretty idea of making 
sketches and casts of the great ruins at Athens and solicited government support for the scheme. On all 
sides he heard good reports of J. M. W. Turner, who was then twenty-four and beginning to win 
golden opinions. Turner was willing to undertake the commission but it proved impossible to secure 
him because, in Elgin’s own words: 

He wished to retain a certain portion of his labour for his own use; he moreover asked between seven and eight hundred pounds 
of salary, independently of his expenses being paid, which of course was out of my reach altogether; therefore nothing was done 
here preparatory to the undertaking at all. 

Elgin told this to the House of Commons Select Committee on the Marbles some seventeen years afte 
the fact, forgetting, perhaps pardonably, that Turner had only asked £400. He had anyway missed the 
chance to engage a great artist on a great project - a patronage which by itself might have 
immortalised him. Smith writes, intriguingly, that ‘It was quite natural that Lord Elgin, when in need 
of an artist, should think of Turner. Had he engaged him in place of Lusieri, it is probable that more 
drawings would have been completed but it is certain that the Elgin collection of marbles would 
never have been made ’ (italics mine). What made Smith so sure of this last assertion? His owe 
narrative shows how, stage by stage and sometimes imperceptibly to its participants, a project 
devoted to culture and the fine arts became an enterprise, an undertaking and finally an opportunist 

Elgin’s first step, after the decision to drop Turner, was to engage the services of two lesser men. 
William Richard Hamilton, a fellow Harrovian and later a trustee of the British Museum, was 
appointed his private secretary at the Constantinople embassy. And Giovanni Battista Lusieri, ar 

illustrator down on his luck, was hired (at the salary, incidentally, of £500 a year) as peintre en titre. 
Lusieri’s portfolio of Athenian paintings was lost at sea many years later and few of his other works 
survive, but he had a reputation as a meticulous draughtsman with a great capacity for pains but little 
flair for light or shade. 

Hamilton was to rise to the eminence of Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and in tha 
capacity, after Waterloo, to oversee the restitution of works of art purloined by Napoleon. In 1799, 
however, we find him writing to Elgin that: 

The French have taken away from Rome all the valuable Statues - Sixty-two choice pieces from the Vatican alone - among 
which are the Torso Apollo of Belvedere, Laocoon, Meleager, etc - besides the best from the other Museums - Most of the best 
pictures are also at Paris - During the Republic Chef-d’oeuvres of the first Masters were se llin g for nothing - and all the 
Galleries but that of Doria, have lost their best oil-paintings - Luckily the works in Fresco were immoveable. 

Smith comments that it is ‘interesting’ to find Hamilton writing in this way. Others might prefer to see 
it as ironic. 

As the eighteenth century turned into the nineteenth, Elgin’s subordinates assembled a commission 
with the still-limited objective of taking casts, making sketches and otherwise representing the glories 
of Athenian antiquity. An artist from Astrakhan in Russia named Feodor Ivanovich and known to all 
his peers as ‘Lord Elgin’s Calmuck’ was taken on in Rome. So were a pair of architectural 
specialists named Vincenzo Balestra and Sebastian Ittar, and two moulders of casts. In July of 180C 
the advance guard of the party reached Athens and was greeted by the British consul, Spiridor 

Logotheti stood in much the same relation to Elgin, who was by now established ir 
Constantinople, as did Athens to the Ottoman capital. Greece in the declining days of Turkish rule 
was a miserable, abject country. British Foreign Office papers concerning Ottoman revenues describe 
Athens as ‘the forty-third city of European Turkey’. It was run as a source of pelffor its two imperial 
overseers, the Voivode or governor, and the Disdar or military governor of the Acropolis. It was the 
Disdar’s privilege to exact tribute from visitors to the ruins - in 1785 Sir Richard Worsley described 
gaining admission at the cost of ‘a few yards of broad-cloth to the wife of the Disdar\ Lord Elgin’s 
draughtsmen were initially obliged to pay five guineas a day. 

Since Athens was a village of perhaps twelve hundred houses, the grand structures of Greek and 
Roman antiquity had been pressed into service by the Turkish garrison. The Parthenon contained a 
mosque for their devotions, the Erechtheion had become a powder magazine and the pillars of the 
Propylaia provided convenient bricked-up emplacements for cannon. The Theseion was a church, 
while the Tower of the Winds did duty as a centre for the whirling dervish sect. The Christians were 
almost as casual as the Moslems - the Monument of Lysicrates serving as the storeroom for a Frencf 
Capuchin convent. Every traveller of the period reported that slabs of Pentelic marble were used 
higgledy-piggledy to shore up hasty new structures. 

Arriving on this scene in April 1801 and finding his party already at work, Lusieri wrote to Elgir 
that conditions were rather makeshift and that ‘everything that has been done up till now in the citadel 
has been by means of presents to the Disdar, who is the commandant’. Lusieri continued: 

He, however, has been threatened by the Cadi and Voivode if he should continue to admit us to the fortress, and has just told us 
that henceforth it was impossible to work there without a firman. I therefore beg your Excellency to have one sent to us as soon 
as possible, drawn up in such terms as to prevent us meeting with new difficulties in resuming and peaceably continuing our work. 

This appeal for a firman, or signed authorisation by the Sublime Porte, was seconded by Elgin’s 

friend Hunt and by Logotheti. 

Up to this point, it is important to remember, Lord Elgin’s declared plan was to do no more than 
make copies and representations, and perhaps collect a few scattered specimens. But, as he was later 
to tell the House of Commons, his whole design altered at some point in May 1801: 

From the period of Stuart’s visit to Athens till the time I went to Turkey, a very great destruction had taken place. There was an 
old temple on the Ilissus had disappeared ... every traveller coming, added to the general defacement of the statuary in his reach: 
there are now in London pieces broken off within our day And the Turks have been continually defacing the heads; and in some 
instances they have actually reported to me, that they have pounded down the statues to convert them into mortar: It was upon 
these suggestions and with these feelings, that I proceeded to remove as much of the sculpture as I conveniently could; it was no 
part of my original plan to bring away anything but my models [italics mine], 

Elgin’s evidence here is not as unambiguous as he makes it sound. The application for a firman 
closes with the entreaty (as translated from Italian into English) that ‘when they wish to take awa> 
some pieces of stone with old inscriptions or figures thereon, that no opposition be made thereto’. 
The final section of the firman itself when rendered from the Italian, commands the subordinates of 
the Sublime Porte not to ‘meddle with their scaffolding or implements, nor hinder them from taking 
away any pieces of stone with inscriptions or figures’. 

There are a number of legal and linguistic inconsistencies in the firman which I have postponed to 
a later chapter. For the moment it is enough to notice what offends the Greeks so much. By Elgin’s 
own account, and by all other certifiable histories, the Turks cared little or nothing for the temples 
under their control and even desecrated them to make mortar. What, then, is the moral force of a 
Turkish document which gives to foreigners the right to make themselves free of the Parthenon? 

The actual force was one of realpolitik or force majeure or raison d’etat or what you will. In 
these departments Elgin held a definite advantage. Lord Nelson’s victories at the Nile had greatl) 
impressed the Turks and indebted them to their British allies in the struggle against Bonaparte. As 
Elgin himself put it: 

In proportion with the change of affairs in our relations towards Turkey, the facilities of access were increased to me and to all 
English travellers; and about the middle of the summer of 1801 all difficulties were removed; we then had access for general 
purposes... The objection disappeared from the moment of the decided success of our arms in Egypt? Yes; the whole system of 
Turkish feeling met with a revolution, in the first place, from the invasion of the French, and afterwards by our conquest. 

Without this uniquely favourable conjunction of circumstances, which included the continued 
subjection of Greece to the Ottomans, it is quite impossible to imagine Lord Elgin doing any more 
than taking a few creditable casts and etchings back home with him Bringing ‘home’ in this case may 
mean more than repatriation. As Elgin wrote to Lusieri on 10 July 1801: 

Balestra has with him several drawings of my house in Scotland, and some plans of the site on which it is intended to build here. 

As regards the latter, it would be necessary to me to have them by the first opportunity. The plans for my house in Scotland 
should be known to you. This building is a subject that occupies me greatly, and offers me the means of placing, in a useful, 
distinguished and agreeable way, the various things that you may perhaps be able to procure for me. 

The Hall is intended to be adorned with columns - the cellars underneath are vaulted expressly for this. 

Would it then be better to get some white columns worked in this country, in order to send them by sea to my house? Or to 
look out for some different kinds of marble that could be collected together in course of time and decorate the hall (in the manner 
of the great Church at Palermo) with columns all different one from another, and all of fine marble - supplementing them with 
agates and other rare marbles which are found in Sicily, and which are worked in small pieces? 

I am inclined towards the latter plan. If each column was different and each beautiful, I should think that the effect would be 
admirable but perhaps better if there were two of each kind. 

In either case I should wish to collect as much marble as possible. I have other places in my house which need it, and besides, 
one can easily multiply ornaments of beautiful marble without overdoing it; and nothing, truly, is so beautiful and also independent 

of changes of fashion. 

These reflections only apply to unworked marble. You do not need any prompting from me to know the value that is attached 
to a sculptured marble, or historic piece. 

Here, perhaps, in a private letter, one can detect the slight cupidity that was the counterpart of Elgin’s 
parsimony. No mention, you will notice, is made of the cause of fine arts and civilisation. Indeed, in 
much of his less confidential correspondence Elgin only inserted such considerations as an 
afterthought. It was seriously suggested to him at one point by the Reverend Philip Hunt, his chaplair 
at Constantinople, that the entire caryatid porch of the Erechtheion be removed. ‘If your Lordshif 
would come here in a large Man of War that beautiful little model of ancient art might be transported 
wholly to England.’ Elgin wrote at once to Lord Keith, naval commander-in-chief for the 

I have been at monstrous expense at Athens [a city he had not yet even visited] where I at this moment possess advantages 
beyond belief ... Now if you would allow a ship of war of size to convoy the Commissary’s ship and stop a couple of days at 
Athens to get away a most valuable piece of architecture at my disposal there you could confer upon me the greatest obligation I 
could receive and do a very essential service to the Arts in England. Bonaparte has not got such a thing from all his thefts in 
Italy. Pray kindly attend to this my Lord [italics mine]. 

Lord Keith could not spare a ship of the line either for Lord Elgin’s private gain or for the 
enhancement of ‘the Arts in England’ - two notions which seemed contused in the letter. Nor was he 
asked to rescue the marbles from the barbarous Turks - the idea that he was saving them had not yet 
occurred to Elgin. But the caryatid porch was put to the saw, as we shall see. 

The Reverend Hunt seems to have been a most worldly chaplain. In a letter to Hamilton dated £ 
July 1801 he spoke of the diplomatic mission with which he is entrusted, ‘to create an impression in 
favour of our view and of our power ... to repress the rebellious, and encourage the faithful and 
Loyal servants of the Porte’. He continued: 

On such Classic ground investigation into the remains of Antiquity, and an attempt to procure such as are interesting and portable 
will naturally come in as a secondary object; and as I shall carry a Ferrnan to enable our Artists to prosecute without interruption 
their researches in the Acropolis of Athens, I will take care to see it put properly into execution. When as many of these objects 
political and classical are attained, as I find practicable, I hope to be able to proceed to Rhodes [italics in original], 

A few weeks later, on 31 July 1801, the first metope was removed from the Parthenon. From that date 
onwards the practical side of things became uppermost. Lusieri wrote to Elgin on 30 September: 

I hope that no further difficulties will be raised, as to continuing the diggings at the Temple ofMinerva, and I shall be able to get 
possession of all the fragments I find. Mr Hunt wrote to your Excellency on my behalf to send a dozen marble saws of different 
sizes to Athens as quickly as possible. I should require three or four, twenty feet in length, to saw a great bas-relief [the 
centrepiece of the east frieze] that we could not transport unless we reduce its weight. 

Elgin promised the saws but Lusieri could not wait. On 26 October he reported that: 

with a single saw that I have got from the convent, they have sawn a precious fragment of the comice of the Temple of Neptune 
Erechtheus [the Erechtheion] and with the same saw they are now sawing a bas-relief, a part of the frieze of the Parthenon. 

This meant, as A. H. Smith non-commitally points out, ‘the operation of cutting off the backs of the 
architectural sculptures, if their thickness made them inconveniently heavy ... ’ 

It may be worth noting what the Reverend Hunt was up to when he escorted the marbles and 
metopes by ship from Athens to Alexandria. Due to an unfavourable wind, as he noted in a letter to 
Elgin dated 8 January 1802, 

We were therefore forced to put into a port of Asia near the ancient Halicarnassus; from whence I carried off a votive altar, with 
sculptured festoons and an Inscription. After Twenty days stay in that miserable deserted Port (during which time my Fever and 
Ague &c perpetually tormented me,) we reached [Capo Creo] the ancient Cnidus. There contrary winds gave me an opportunity 
to carry off some beautiful fragments of Ionic and Corinthian Cornices, Freezes &c but others which I was forced to leave from 
their bulk may be had on my return. 

The words ‘rescue’ or ‘preservation’ do not occur here any more than they do in Elgin’s letter to 
Lusieri of a few days previously He advised him ‘to excavate at Olympia. It is one of the mosi 
interesting and curious pieces of work - a place that has never been touched. ’ 

Here, then, the excuse of Turkish depredation did not apply. Speaking in the same letter of the 
work at Athens, Elgin stipulated: 

I should wish to have, of the Acropolis, examples in the actual object of each thing, and architectural ornament - of each cornice, 
each frieze, each capital of the decorated ceilings, of the fluted columns - specimens of the different architectural orders, and of 
the variant forms of the orders - of metopes and the like, as much as possible. Finally, everything in the way of sculpture, medals 
and curious marbles that can be discovered by means of assiduous and indefatigable excavation. This excavation ought to be 
pushed on as much as possible be its success what it may. 

It is useful and important to know the background to this note of urgency. Though one seldom finds an 
allusion to the fact in the vast correspondence of the collecting classes, it was an open secret that the 
Greeks did not love their Ottoman masters. The 1821 revolt was only a few years away and some 
murmurings could already be distinguished. Thomas Harrison, Lord Elgin’s architect, put it rathei 
bluntly when he wrote to his employer that ‘the opportunity of the present good understanding 
between us and the Porte should not be lost, as it appears very uncertain, from the fluctuating state of 
Europe how long this part of Greece may remain under its present Master ... Greece may be callec 
maiden Ground. ’ 

Harrison was on to something there, though one might question whether a country so ravished 
could be called ‘maiden’. The collecting classes at any rate appear to have understood that their time 
of opportunity was not long. As Elgin wrote to Lusieri concerning the temples at Eleusis: 

The monuments never seem to have been taken, nor the site determined. It would be necessary to take a couple of saws for the 
finds. There is already a metope lying on the surface, with two torches crowned with an inscription, pretty much as follows 
XAIOI. A little further is an enormous triglyph, good to measure, or to take [italics in original]. 

Members of Elgin’s party and others employed this period to ‘carry off’ immense finds from Corinth, 
Eleusis, Mycenae and elsewhere. Today’s Greeks do not request the return of anything but the 
sculptures of the Parthenon. But then they are not told in the other cases that the removal was all for 
the good of Greece. 

The sound of the saw was heard with increasing persistence as the year 1802 wore on. Lusieri 
wrote to Elgin, again concerning the centrepiece of the east frieze, that: 

Not being well-sawn, for want of sufficiently fine saws, and being a little weak in the middle it parted in two in course of 
transport, in spite of all the precautions taken. Happily it broke in the middle, in a straight line, at a place where there was no 
work, so that the accident has helped us to transport it quickly and put it on board. 

And, concerning a Doric capital from the Propylaia: 

I will also take one from the Parthenon, but it is necessary to saw it in two. The Propylaea one is fairly large, but this is 
enormous. The gates of the citadel are not wide enough to let it pass. The three capitals, one Doric of early style, and two 
Corinthian, of a different date, and very early, which were in the old chapel near the Stadium, are in the store. 

More significant, perhaps, given the late date (16 September 1802) was the concluding paragraph ir 

which Lusieri counselled Elgin: 

I advise you, my Lord, to procure a firman for the Disdar, in which everything that he has done for your Excellency is approved. 

It is a paper that you promised him before you left Athens. 

This firman , then, was to be retroactive, since the work which it was to license had already been 
carried out. Did Lusieri and Elgin suspect, or know, that they had exceeded even the ambivalenl 
provisions of the original 1801 firman? Certainly the Disdar, who had had a few presents from his 
English friends (Elgin replied to Lusieri’s letter that ‘so long as he is my friend he will have solid 
proofs of my friendship’), seems to have felt that additional protection was required. Indeed, the 
practice of ex post facto justification became second nature to the whole Elgin-Lusieri expedition. 
Consider, for example, Elgin’s Memorandum to the House of Commons Select Committee, in whicl 
he gave an affecting description of ‘the house of the old Turk’. The old Turk in question confessed, 
‘laughingly’ according to Elgin, that he had made mortar out of the marble statues of the Acropolis, 
whereupon, as the Memorandum expresses it: 

Lord Elgin afterwards ascertained, on incontrovertible evidence, that these statues had been reduced into powder, and so used. 

Then, and then only, did he employ means to rescue what still remained from a similar fate. 

But the story of ‘the old Turk’ (which we have no reason to doubt) is given as occurring in May of 
1802. And the first panels of the Parthenon were removed in July 1801, long before Elgin visited 
Athens at all. A committee deliberating in London more than a decade later would have had to be 
very acute and well-informed to notice the discrepancy, which occurs in Smith’s narrative though he 
does not point it out. 

By the end of his expedition Elgin had accumulated much of the best of what the Acropolis had to 
offer. Those who say that the buildings and sculptures are better for his exertions, no matter what his 
motive, must ask themselves whether he left the buildings and sculptures any better than he found 
them. Of the buildings, which had their entablatures rudely hewn away, one would have to answer no 
to this question. Of the sculptures, it is possible to argue that they might have been worse off if Elgir 
had never been born, or never appointed ambassador to a corrupt and declining imperial court. But 
the conditional mood is a tricky one. Consider the fate of the Mentor. 

The Mentor was a small brig commanded by a Captain Eglen. It had been purchased by Lore 
Elgin, and left the Athenian outport of Piraeus on 5 January 1802 with many boxes of moulds and 
sculptures. There were three marble torsos from the Parthenon, a piece of the frieze and a marble 
throne aboard. Having taken the long route around Alexandria and Cyprus in order to ship more 
cargo, the Mentor sank in deep water off Kythera. The frieze of ‘wingless Victory’, in four boxes, 
was retrieved within a month but the remainder seemed beyond salvage. Elgin despatched a servant 
of Hamilton’s, one Peter Gavallo, to contact the British consul at Kythera. To this official, Emmanuel 
Caluci, he bore a letter. In the letter Elgin wrote of the marbles on the sea bottom: ‘The cases contair 
stones of no great value in themselves, but it is of very great consequence to me to salve them.’ 

Had these cases not survived and had they not, with enormous labour on the part of local 
fishermen, been retrieved, Lord Elgin’s name would have been associated as much with the loss of 
treasures as with their acquisition, and his description ofthem - ‘stones ofno great value’ - would 
have come down to us as another example of heroic British diffidence. 

★ ★ ★ 

One day in February 1803 - no certain date can be ascribed - the vessel Braakel sailed from Athens. 
On board were, in the words of A. H. Smith: 

The principal statues of the East Pediment, viz, the Theseus, the Demeter and Kore, the Iris, the single Fate, and the pair of 
Fates; and from the West Pediment the Hermes and the Ilissos. There were also two metopes, seventeen cases of Parthenon 
frieze, seventeen inscriptions, the Dionysos from the monument of Thrasyllos, seven Egyptian pieces, parts of the comice and 
architrave of the Erechtheum, the soffits of the Theseum, the four slabs from the frieze of Nike Apteros, which were the first 
objects to be saved from the Mentor , the two fragments supposed to be from Mycenae, the sundial of Phaedros, and many minor 

On his own way home Lord Elgin had the misfortune to be interned by the Bonapartist authorities as c 
hostage for the safe return of the French general Boyer. He remained at Pau until released on parole 
by Talleyrand in 1806. This did not, however, prevent Lusieri from acting as if his master’s orders 
were still extant. ‘Everything’, Elgin had once enjoined. Very well. Under the new Britisf 
ambassador, Sir William Drummond, new acquisitions and shipments included one of the caryatids, 
the column from the eastern portico of the Erechtheion and numerous other reliefs, vases and 
fragments. Large pieces of the frieze remained to be had and Lusieri’s letters show the difficulty he 
encountered. He continued to write doggedly and loyally, whether he received a reply or not. For one 
thing, there was need of a new firman. For another, the relevant Turkish official had been promised 
‘a watch and gold snuff-box’ which had not arrived. Lusieri needed quinine, as he mentioned on more 
than one occasion. He also wanted relief from consul Logotheti, who was apparently becoming a 

He is ill-regarded and has not the least influence on account of the bad conduct of all his children, and the folly of Nicolacci [his 
son]. Several English have even threatened to make him lose his vice-consulate, and sooner or later he will lose it. As your 
Excellency’s affairs will be much better in my hands, I intend from henceforth to have nothing to do with the Greeks. I don’t need 
them. I talk the language sufficiently, and shall begin directly to learn Turkish, to dispense with them. 

The whole tone of the correspondence between Lusieri and his patron becomes increasingly 
querulous from then on. There is wearisome talk of a firman here and a bribe there, endless 
difficulties with transport and communications and numerous accounts of pitiful local intrigues. There 
was also the cumbersome question of the town clock, a present from Lord Elgin to the people ol 
Athens. Vast and piffling exchanges took place about the location of same and the question of who 
should defray the cost of the tower on which it was eventually placed. Lusieri continued to send vases 
and fragments even after he learned of the eventual success of Elgin in selling the Parthenon marbles 
to the British nation. These minor artefacts were used to embellish Elgin’s home at Broomhall. Bu 
Elgin was tiring of his devoted friend and agent. In January 1819 he wrote to him, explaining: 

If it were possible, I should have nothing so much at heart as to continue to employ your talents on a theatre so worthy of them. 

But the injustice I have suffered with respect to this collection, many misfortunes that have come upon me, and a numerous 
family have so curtailed my means, that with real regret I submit to the necessity of bringing everything to a close that can cause 

Poor Lusieri; his powers of drawing were on the wane. He could offer only two finished pictures. 
In forwarding Lusieri’s letter Hamilton wrote a pitiless covering note: 

I enclose a packet from Lusieri, which you should only read on a very fine day. It shows him an arrant Jew ... His excuses for 
his idleness are abominable, and he evidently has finished nothing - nor indeed done anything to the purpose , in any way 
whatever, for the last four or five years [italics in original]. 

Elgin wrote back to Hamilton, justifying his treatment of Lusieri by claiming that he had outlived his 
usefulness. ‘As long as he had on hand the collecting of the Sculpture, and making extensive 
excavations, extra charges came to be necessary, both for his personal aid and for the countenance of 
the Turkish authorities. But for many years, these occasions have ceased.’ 

On 19 February 1821 Lusieri wrote once more, ‘again dwelling on the want of funds and ol 
news’. It was a far cry from the brave days when in Lord Elgin’s name he could suborn Turkish 
officialdom and even behave ‘a little barbarously’. It was also his last letter. On 1 March 1821 he 
died. Had he lived a few more weeks he might have witnessed that month’s outbreak of the Greek 
revolution against Ottoman rule. But then he had sworn ‘henceforth to have nothing to do with the 

His entire portfolio of drawings, the harvest of twenty years’ work, was lost in the wreck of hms 
Cambrian off Crete on 31 January 1828. 

The Acquisition: 2 

Elgin’s 1819 letter cutting off Lusieri has a ring of self-pity. But the ‘injustice’ and the ‘misfortunes’ 
to which he alluded were by no means wholly imaginary. In his excellent book The Plundered Past , 
Karl Meyer writes that Lord Elgin’s coveted appointment to Constantinople caused him to lose ‘Eds 
fortune, his reputation, his wife and the lower half of his nose’. For the last affliction, which resulted 
from a skin disorder he contracted in Turkey, Elgin was to be dogged by unfounded and unfeeling 
jokes about syphilis. His freedom from the status of hostage in Napoleonic France, which he endured 
for three years, was only purchased at the cost of a very restrictive parole from Talleyrand which 
ruined his diplomatic prospects. His vivacious wife, Mary, exploited his absence to live openly with 
another man, Robert Ferguson, who was a neighbour in Scotland. A painful divorce ensued. 

But the unkindest cut, from Elgin’s point of view, must have been the reception that was accorded 
to his trove of marble. The sculptures had continued to arrive in London while he was still a prisoner 
in France. On his return he arranged for their showing in an improvised shelter adjoining his 
temporary house on Park Lane. Their authenticity was promptly challenged by Richard Payne Knight 
an opinionated booby with some following among classicists, who told Elgin that ‘You have lost your 
labour, my Lord. Your marbles are overrated: they are not Greek: they are Roman of the time of 
Hadrian.’ This ludicrous opinion was to sustain Payne Knight until his death; its absurdity did noi 
prevent it from adding to Elgin’s woes, because he could not expect to sell the marbles if their 
provenance was in doubt. And expertise on classical Greece was in relatively short supply at that 

From 1807 the marbles were on limited public view at Park Lane (where they inspired the rapture 
of Benjamin Robert Haydon). In 1809 the exhibition was closed to the public and Hamilton, who hac 
acted as unofficial curator, wrote to Elgin about selling the house: 

What is to be done with the Marbles? I have often mentioned to you the application made to me to know, when & if Govt, is to 
buy them - and certainly the prejudice in their favour is now become so general that I have no doubt that Govt, would pay for 
them liberally, and certainly the house would sell much better, if known that they were to be removed within a certain time, than if 
any arrangement of that kind were to remain over this Session undetermined, at least as far as a private understanding with Govt, 
would go. 

Elgin still flirted with the idea of retaining the sculptures himself and of making them a paying 
proposition all the same. Throughout the summer ofl809 he admitted certain privileged guests such as 
the celebrated actress Mrs Siddons. Thomas Lawrence wrote somewhat hyperbolically of her visi 
that ‘Mrs Siddons can nowhere be seen with so just accompaniments as the works of Phidias, nor car 
they receive nobler homage than from her praise. She is of his age, a kindred genius, though living in 
our times.’ This episode recurs in Elgin’s Memorandum two years later as the occasion when a 

group of the Fates ‘so rivetted and agitated the feelings of Mrs Siddons, the pride of theatrical 
representation, as actually to draw tears from her eyes’. Emotional expense, at any rate, was not to be 

By the autumn of 1809, however, Elgin was no nearer to selling Park Lane and was entertaining 
the idea of converting it into a permanent private museum, to which the public would be admitted as 
paying customers. As A. H. Smith records it, professional advice on this scheme was discouraging: 

It was architecturally practicable, at a cost of £1500-2000. But there would be the expense of reinstatement at the end of the 
lease. The remainder of the house would be greatly depreciated as a property, and there was no probability that the ad mis sion 
fees would meet the expenses of maintenance. It was therefore much to be preferred that the marbles should pass to the keeping 
of the Government. 

The project of furnishing his Scottish keep at Broomhall with the friezes of Phidias had expired 
Now the idea of retaining them at Park Lane had proven illusory also. In turning his attention to the 
idea of a bequest Elgin was actuated by motives which, if they were not purely pecuniary, were 
certainly not entirely aesthetic. 

Early in the year 1810, Joseph Planta of the British Museum called upon Hamilton to inquire wha 
Lord Elgin’s intentions concerning the marbles might be. Referred to the principal in the matter, he 
received a call from Elgin in July. The outcome of this meeting was a letter from Planta on 21 July, ir 
which he urged immediate action: 

The necessity of receiving from your Lordship a specific offer is what I believe our leading men will not dispense with; and my 
zeal in the cause urges me earnestly to wish that this step might be got over as soon as possible, for though nothing decisive can 
be done till our trustees meet in November, yet preliminary measures may be taken among individuals which may greatly facilitate 
the happy issue of their collective deliberations. 

Planta also busied himself writing to trustees of the museum such as Mr Speaker Charles Abbot 
(later Lord Colchester), and to General Ramsay, a close friend of Elgin. The import of all these 
letters was that Elgin should initiate proceedings by stating plainly what he would take for the 

Accordingly, Elgin drew up a Memorandum of his acquisition, and in May 1811 made a formal 
approach to the Paymaster-General, the Right Hon. Charles Long (afterwards Lord Farnborough) 
This approach took the form of a statement of expenses, coupled with a formal denial that Lord Elgir 
had made use ofhis post as ambassador to make the collection. The total ofexpenses amounted, he 
said, to a minimum of £62,440. 

The Prime Minister of the day, Spencer Perceval, was more inclined to propose to the House tha 
£30,000 would meet the case. This mortified Elgin considerably. On 31 July 1811 he wrote to 
Perceval in plaintive tones: 

Insinuations have, I’m told, been thrown out, tending to create an impression as if I had obtained a considerable share of these 
marbles in presents from the Porte and without expense; that the allowance of £10,000 granted to me in 1806 bore in some way 
on the cost of my collection; and that during my Embassy I received presents beyond the usual practice in other European courts, 
and out of proportion with the various persons concerned in the operations for the recovery of Egypt. 

Here occurs the only serious flaw in A. H. Smith’s narrative. He simply omits the following lines 
in the letter to Perceval. They came directly after the sentences quoted above: 

I had no advantage from the Turkish government beyond the Firman given equally to other English travellers. My successors in 
the Embassy could not obtain permission for the removal of what I had not myself taken away. 

And on Mr Adair’s being officially instructed to apply in my favour, he understood, ‘The Porte denied that the 

persons who had sold those marbles to me had any right to dispose of them ’ [italics mine]. 

So here we have Lord Elgin, in a signed letter to the prime minister, admitting that he had 
acquired the marbles without the authority he was later to claim that he possessed. In attempting to 
defend himself on one charge - that of overdue intimacy with the Ottoman rulers - he opens himselfon 
another flank and incidentally undermines the British government’s repeated contention that his 
transaction was a legal one by the standards of the day This is an important piece of evidence, and 
since A. H. Smith had certainly read the original letter he had no business leaving it out. It is the onl> 
ellipsis I can find in his account, but it is a damaging one. 

Elgin went on, in still more injured vein, to confront other suggestions: 

I have only to add, that in no one instance during my whole Life passed in the Foreign Service, did I ever receive any extra 
allowance from Government for Debts, losses, or on any other account whatever; that the full pension to which my progression 
thro’ all the Ranks in the career, and my length of service entitles me, has not been granted to me, as to my Colleagues of simil a r 
standing; and that after disposing of my House in London, I still remain burdened with a Debt of not less than £90,000. 

The marbles were removed for the time being from Park Lane to Burlington House, where they were 
augmented by further shipments. Elgin’s correspondence meanwhile took on the tone and shape of a 
protracted haggle - one in which he felt it both vulgar and vital to participate. Hamilton wrote to him 
proposing that he ask £40,000 while insisting that his expenses had been greater. The assassination of 
Spencer Perceval on 11 May 1812 put all such negotiations at hazard for a considerable time. 

In late 1814 an ally made his appearance in the form of Ennio Quirino Visconti. Born in Rome, h( 
was the son of the Pope’s Director of Antiquities and rose to head the Capitoline Museum When 
Bonaparte’s forces removed most of Rome’s treasures to Paris Visconti followed them, became their 
curator, and won immense renown for his edition of Greek and Roman iconographies. Elgin invited 
him to London, telling Hamilton that: 

My object was to obtain from the best judge in Europe (one who having been guardian of the Museum of the Vatican, has since 
had the charge of Bonaparte’s) an appreciation of my collection, advice as to what parts of it are susceptible to restoration, how 
to arrange it in regard to the various distributions it may be capable of etc. A strong feeling, you must recollect, with me is that the 
idea of transferring my Collection to the Publick, should come forward, under the impression that the collection is highly desirable, 
and consider’d so by such authorities, as are conversant with Bonaparte’s Collection and his combinations connected with them. 

For a fee of £120 Visconti visited London, viewed the marbles and expressed an opinion of their 
excellence which forms part of the Memorandum. This did not have all the impact that Elgin had 
hoped; Lord Aberdeen as a trustee of the British Museum giving his opinion that ‘there could be nc 
doubt that Visconti was the best practical Antiquary in the world, and that his independent unbiassed 
opinion would be of great weight anywhere, but that it was equally well known that he would write 
anything he was asked, for £10.’ 

The sale of Burlington House to Lord George Cavendish made the question of a new home for th< 
marbles more urgent, and the tempo of haggling increased. Bonaparte’s escape from Elba, and the 
mustering of British forces for the campaign that would culminate at Waterloo, gave further excuses 
for government frugality and procrastination. Nicholas Vansittart, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, 
made it plain that Elgin must advance a definite price if he expected to do business with His 
Majesty’s Government. The figure of £30,000 still seemed the one which the authorities preferred. 

Hamilton wrote as intermediary to Mr Planta of the British Museum, setting out terms foi 
trusteeship and the transfer of ownership but stopping just short of an actual price. It was at this stage 
that what A. H. Smith calls ‘the delicate question of whether the grant of a Peerage of the Unitec 
Kingdom could be arranged as a part of the whole transaction’ was raised. It was raised to no effect - 

another of Lord Elgin’s major disappointments. He had hoped to quit the ranks of the mere Scottisf 
peerage, but the grant of a barony of Elgin in the United Kingdom was only to be bestowed in 1845 
upon his son, perhaps best remembered for his order to destroy the Summer Palace at Peking in 1860. 

At Planta’s urging, the British Museum set up a committee at a meeting chaired by the Archbishop 
of Canterbury to communicate with the government ‘respecting the purchase of Lord Elgin’s 
collection’. The members of the committee were Lord Aberdeen, himself an amateur robber of the 
Parthenon, Mr Charles Long and Elgin’s old foe Richard Payne Knight. Long thought £35,000 th 
highest feasible price, while Knight inclined to the view that £20,000 would be extravagant. 

Elgin still hoped to do better, and even as the armies of Wellington and Bliicher were converging 
on Quatre Bras and Ligny he wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on 8 June 1815, estimating 
that his expenses, with interest, amounted to £73,600. (Hamilton had always urged him to claim 
‘expenses immediate and accidental, in round and handsome sums’.) The Chancellor prudently 
referred the whole question to a Committee of the House of Commons and a petition to that effect was 
accordingly made to the House on 15 July 1815. 

At once controversy began. For the most part it was confined to questions of propriety rather thar 
principle. That is to say that, while few thought that the Greeks had any standing in the matter, there 
were those who felt that Elgin had exceeded his authority as an ambassador. Sir John Newport was 
foremost among the latter group. He confessed himself ‘afraid that the noble Lord had availed himseli 
of most unwarrantable measures, and had committed the most flagrant acts of spoliation. It seemed to 
have been reserved for an ambassador of this country to take away what Turks and barbarians had 
always held sacred.’ The Speaker’s note on the petition reads, ‘Lord Elgin’s petition presented. The 
collection praised. Lord Elgin’s conduct, and right to the collection, as his private property much 
questioned. Petition to lie on the table.’ 

Within a week Elgin had addressed himself to the Chancellor again, stating in a rather convoluted 
way that, rather than risk the Commons deciding on too high a price, and thus losing the sympathy of 
the nation, ‘I cannot hesitate in authorising you to say that I should consent under these circumstances 
to receive for it Fifty thousand pounds, supposing that the Committee shall report themselves to be 
convinced, on the testimony of the best artists and other competent judges that such sum is (as I am 
confident it is very far) below their real value.’ 

This negotiating position, itself not very neatly expressed, was accompanied by what A. H. Smitl 
terms ‘a curious stipulation’ that, if the collection turned out to be all that was hoped for, ‘it will be 
open to myself and my heirs at some future period, and under circumstances of less public pressure, 
to apply to the liberality of Parliament for a further consideration of the subject with reference to the 
real value of what I may in this way have ceded.’ On 22 June 1815, Vansittart wrote from the 
Exchequer with a polite refusal of this proposal. On 25 June came the news that the man who had 
once termed the British ‘a nation of shopkeepers’ had been decisively vanquished on the field of 

Within a month Hamilton was in Paris, ‘partly on business, partly for dissipation’. At a dinner 
given by Lord Castlereagh, British plenipotentiary in the city, he was introduced to Fouche, who had 
been Minister of Police during Elgin’s internment in France. This may have been the ‘dissipation' 
element in the voyage. The business ingredient was as Lord Liverpool described it in a letter tc 
Castlereagh dated 3 August: 

Hamilton will go with the messenger from London who carries the despatches of this day. He will explain to you the strong 
sensation in this country on the subject of the spoliation of statues and pictures. The Prince Regent is desirous of getting 

some of them for a museum or a gallery here. The men of taste and vertu encourage this idea. The reasonable part of the 
world are for a general restoration to the original possessors ; but they say, with truth, that we have a better title to them 
than the French, if legitimate war gives a title to such objects; and they blame the policy of leaving the trophies of the French 
victories at Paris, and making that capital in future the centre of the arts [italics mine]. 

In a despatch five weeks later, Castlereagh wrote that the Prussians had already seized and 
repatriated those works stolen from the German states, that the Belgians were set on the same course, 
and that: 

Mr Hamilton who is intimate with Canova, the celebrated artist, expressly sent here by the Pope, with a letter to the King, to 
reclaim what was taken from Rome, distinctly ascertained from him that the Pope, if successful, neither could nor would as Pope, 
sell any of the chefs d ’oeuvres that belonged to the See, and in which he has, in fact, only a life interest. 

The Pope’s property was duly removed from the Louvre and restored to him. I cannot resisi 
italicising and stressing the righteous sentences of Liverpool and Castlereagh concerning this episode, 
nor resist pointing out Hamilton’s role in it. At the very moment when he was acting as Lord Elgin’s 
agent in the disposal of the marbles (he ran into Charles Long in Paris and found him still holding oul 
for £36,000 as the maximum price), Hamilton was engaged in reapportioning the loot of half Europe 
to its rightful home. He seemed quite unaware of the hypocrisy implicit in his view, conveyed to Lord 
Elgin in the middle of November 1815, ‘that these works are considered so sacred a property, that no 
direct or indirect means are to be allowed for their being conveyed elsewhere than where they came 
from’. Hamilton mentioned the marbles in this context only because, as he put it, ‘I flatter myselfthal 
the events of the last six weeks there must contribute materially to enhance the value of your 
collection: and I hope, to soften the obduracy of some of the valuers.’ 

Of course at the time the Greeks were six years away from their revolution and had no powerful 
friends to plead for them. As the Tory historian C. M. Woodhouse puts it in his book The 
Philhellenes : ‘The point is that it never occurred to anybody, before Byron, that the removal of the 
Elgin Marbles might be seen as an act depriving the Greeks of their historic heritage. Nobody though 
it in the least odd that the Greeks were allowed no say whatever in the matter.’ 

Elgin wrote to Hamilton later in 1815, thanking him for representing his interests in Paris and 
telling of fresh financial straitenings: 

You will have heard that in consequence of embarrassments in Broughton’s affairs, a debt I owe him of £18,000 came to be 
claimed by Govt, on which occasion I was impelled to apply to Mr Vansittart [the Chancellor of the Exchequer], soliciting that I 
might be allowed indulgence till the discussion took place in Parlt. about my collection. He has complied in the most kind, and 
obliging manner, contenting himself with a security upon the marbles, which I have accordingly authorised. 

Which is to say that, before Parliament had even voted on the matter, Lord Elgin had agreed with the 
Exchequer to use the Parthenon marbles as security on a bad debt. 

In June 1816, after a long debate and a far from narrow division, the Commons passed an Act oi 
Parliament. The chief headings of the Act are contained in one paragraph which stated that: 

the said Earl hath agreed to sell the same for the sum of Thirty five thousand Pounds, on Condition that the whole of the said 
Collection should be kept together in the British Museum, and open to Inspection, and called by the name of ‘The Elgin Marbles’ 
and that the said Earl and every person who should attain the Rank of Earl of Elgin should be added to the Trustees of th ^British 
Museum [italics in original]. 

The thing was done. 

Having chronicled the whole voyage of the marbles from the Acropolis to Bloomsbury, A. H. 
Smith concluded by saying: 

The great Elgin controversy had now been settled by two of the most authoritative tribunals known to the constitution of this 
country. A Select Committee of the House of Commons had heard witnesses and had pronounced its opinion. Parliament, after 
full debate, had adopted the conclusions of the Committee. Some voices were raised in opposition at the time, and have made 
themselves audible at intervals ever since, but on the whole the great body of responsible and informed opinion has endorsed the 
verdict of the Committee and of Parliament. 

Since the greater part of the preceding two chapters has been my own gloss on the work of A. H. 
Smith, I should be the first to dip my colours in salute to his industry and scholarship. But I think tha 
his paragraph above is an unsafe conclusion from his work. Rather, it represents a judgement quite 
independent of his researches. It is possible from a careful reading of Smith to discover, or to show, 

1. Lord Elgin misled the House of Commons about his motives (see pages 36-7). 

2. Lord Elgin exceeded the terms even of the very elastic firman which he extracted from the Turks. 
As Brian Cook, then Keeper of Greek and Roman Antiquities, conceded in his 1984 British Museur 
booklet The Elgin Marbles ; ‘it may be questioned whether the firman actually authorised even the 
partial dismantling of the buildings in order to remove sculptures ... When questioned in 1816 by the 
Select Committee Hunt agreed that the Voivode had been induced “to extend rather than contract the 
precise permissions of the firman”’ (see pages 43^4). 

3. Lord Elgin paid bribes to venal Turkish officials and exploited his position as an ambassador (‘Di 
Hunt, who had better opportunities of information on this point than any other person who had been 
examined, gave it as his decided opinion that a British subject not in the situation of ambassador 
could not have been able to obtain from the Turkish government a firman of such extensive powers’ - 
Select Committee report) (see pages 29 and 34). 

4. Lord Elgin profited from an exceptional political conjuncture to take advantage of an uncertain 
political regime (see pages 30 and 35). 

5. Lord Elgin knew of, but did not object to, severe structural damage inflicted upon the Parthenon ir 
his name (see pages 17 and 36). 

6. Lord Elgin at no time cared to ascertain the wishes or feelings of the Greek people or the 
inhabitants of Athens (see page 61). 

7. Lord Elgin was obliged to take whatever the British government asked for the treasures of the 
Parthenon, because the Crown held them as a security for one of his bad debts (see page 49). 

8. Lord Elgin only claimed to have acquired the marbles ‘for the nation’, rather than for his own home 
in Scotland, when financial exigency necessitated their sale (see page 42). 

These items in the bill of criticism do not derive from hindsight. They were plain at the time, and 
plain at the time of A. H. Smith. The other element in his summary of the case, concerning ‘the greai 
body of responsible and informed opinion’, is much more subjective. Yet it can be shown that he was 
wrong there too. Important members of that ‘great body’ disagreed with Elgin and with the British 
government from the start, continued to do so, and do so to this day. 

The Argument: 1 

Difficult though it is to assign a definite date, the dispute over the legality and the rightness of Lord 
Elgin’s conduct began almost as soon as the work of his mechanics and operatives did. The first in 
the field was George Noel Gordon, Lord Byron, who knew enough of Greece to know that there wa: 
such a thing as Greek feeling, and also to know that it had been outraged. In Canto II of Childe Harold 
and in a later work, The Curse of Minerva, Byron emptied the vials of scorn and contempt over the 
Scottish peer. Hamilton, ever alert to the possible rewards of publicity, wrote to Elgin, ‘I do nol 
consider him [Byron] a very formidable enemy in his mediated attack, and I shall be much surprised 
if his attack on what you have done do not turn out one of the most friendly acts he could have done. It 
will create an interest in the public, excite curiosity, and the real advantage to the country, and the 
merit of your exertions, will become more known, and felt as they are more known.’ 

Elgin seems not to have been so sanguine, and Moore suggests that The Curse of Minerva was 
kept back from publication because of ‘a friendly remonstrance from Lord Elgin, or some of his 
connexions’ to the publisher. We know that William Miller, who had published Elgin’s 
Memorandum on the marbles, turned down the chance to publish Childe Harold. But Hamilton was 
right in a fashion. When Byron’s verses did fall from the press in March 1812 they secured Elgin’s 
immortality more surely than any Act of Parliament or tribute of a grateful nation could have done. 

As he reflects on the shell of the Parthenon, Childe Harold gives vent to an astonishing mixture o: 
melancholy and anger: 


But who, of all the plunderers of yon fane 
On high, where Pallas linger’d, loth to flee 
The latest re he of her ancient reign; 

The last, the worst, dull spoiler, who was he? 

Blush, Caledonia! such thy son could be! 

England! I joy no child he was of thine: 

Thy free-born men should spare what once was free; 

Yet they could violate each saddening shrine, 

And bear these altars o’er the long-reluctant brine. 


But most the modern Piet’s ignoble boast, 

To rive what Goth, and Turk, and Time hath spar’d: 

Cold as the crags upon his native coast, 

His mind as barren and his heart as hard, 

Is he whose head conceiv’d, whose hand prepar’d, 

Aught to displace Athena’s poor remains: 

Her sons too weak the sacred shrine to guard, 

Yet felt some portion of their mother’s pains, 

And never knew, till then, the weight of Despot’s chains. 

Nor was this all. Byron thought of lampooning Lord Aberdeen, who later sat on the British Museum’s 
committee for the purchase of the marbles, and who had lifted a good few stones from the Acropolis 
himself in his time. The following stanza was withdrawn from the published version of Childe 
Harold only at the last moment. It would have appeared after stanza 13: 

Come then ye classic Thieves of each degree, 

Dark Ha milt on and sullen Aberdeen, 

Come pilfer all that pil g rims love to see, 

All that yet consecrates the fading scene: 

Ah! better were it ye had never been 

Nor ye nor Elgin nor that lesser wight 
The victim sad of vase-collecting spleen 
House furnisher withal one Thomas hight 
Than ye should bear one stone from wronged Athena’s site. 

This poetic assault reads like a verse essay in restraint when set against The Curse of Minerva : 

Daughter of Jove! in Britain’s injured name, 

A true-born Briton may the deed disclaim. 

Frown not on England; England owns him not: 

Athena, no! thy plunderer was a Scot. 

Ask’st thou the difference? From fair Phyle’s towers 
Survey Boeotia; - Caledonia’s ours. 

And well I know within that bastard land 
Hath Wisdom’s goddess never held command; 

A barren soil, where Nature’s germs, confined 
To stern sterility, can stint the mind; 

Whose thistle well betrays the niggard earth, 

Emblem of all to whom the land gives birth; 

Each genial influence nurtured to resist; 

A land of meanness, sophistry, and mis t. 

Each breeze from foggy mount and marshy plain 
Dilutes with drivel every drizzly brain, 

Till, burst at length, each wat’ry head o’erflows, 

Foul as their soil, and frigid as their snows. 

Then thousand schemes of petulance and pride 
Despatch her scheming children far and wide: 

Some east, some west, some everywhere but north, 

In quest of lawless gain, they issue forth. 

And thus - accursed be the day and year! 

She sent a Piet to play the felon here. 

Byron’s name is indissolubly linked with the Romantic idea, and not unjustly so. But it is otter 
forgotten that he did more than strike attitudes and abuse buffoons. A few hours spent with his later 
journals from Missolonghi will show that he gave long, unrewarding service and spent much money 
and time in banal, practical, heartbreaking devotion to the cause of Greece. The levity of some of his 
stanzas should not deceive later readers. He meant what he said, and will be remembered as one of 
the very few Englishmen who thought to ask what Greek emotion might be. At a period when ever> 
other participant in the argument was disputing the interest rate on sculpture and asking after the well¬ 
being and security of Lord Elgin, Byron had a sense of the Parthenon. In this respect he was mon 
modern, as well as more ‘romantic’, than his contemporaries. 

It is difficult to gauge the exact contemporary influence of Byron’s polemic, except to say that he 
seems to have touched some nerve of anti-Caledonian feeling. On a wall inside the Erechtheion, some 
admirer carved the quip, which might have been taken from Byron’s ‘’Scaped from the ravage of the 
Turk and Goth’: ‘Quod non fecerunt Goti, hoc fecerunt Scoti 

Some of his strength of feeling seems to have communicated itself to others. In the Commons 
debate on the marbles, Byron’s imagery of desecration combined with opportunism was very much 
present. In evidence before the Commons Committee, for example, John Bacon Sawrey Morril 
(Morritt of Rokeby, at that time Member for Northallerton) said that he had passed three months ir 
Athens in the spring of 1795 and found that ‘the Greeks were decidedly and strongly desirous that the 
marbles should not be removed from Athens’. In the later debate, on 7 June 1816, with the House 

sitting as a Committee of Supply, Mr Hugh Hammersley made the firstrecorded proposal for the 
return of the marbles. He did so by proposing an amendment to the bill which read: 

That this committee having taken into its consideration the manner in which the earl of Elgin became possessed of certain ancient 
sculptured marbles from Athens, laments that this ambassador did not keep in remembrance that the high and dignified station of 
representing his sovereign should have made him forbear from availing himself of that character in order to obtain valuable 
possessions belonging to the government to which he was accredited; and that such forbearance was peculiarly necessary at a 
moment when that government was expressing high obligations to Great Britain. This committee, however, imputes to the noble 
earl no venal motive whatever of pecuniary advantage to himself, but on the contrary, believes that he was actuated by a desire 
to benefit his country, by acquiring for it, at great risk and labour to himself, some of the most valuable specimens in existence of 
ancient sculpture. 

After this relatively conciliatory preamble, Hammersley made his specific proposal: 

This committee, therefore, feels justified, under the particular circumstances of the case, in recommending that £25,000 be 
offered to the earl of Elgin for the collection in order to recover and keep it together for that government from which it has been 
improperly taken, and to which this committee is of opinion that a communication should be immediately made, stating, that Great 
Britain holds these marbles only in trust till they are demanded by the present, or any future, possessors of the city of Athens, and 
upon such demand, engages, without question or negociation, to restore them, as far as can be effected, to the places from 
whence they were taken, and that they shall be in the mean time carefully preserved in the British Museum. 

This amendment is of interest because it makes the same dissociation between Elgin’s motives 
(however various those may have been) and the responsibility for the sculpture that is made by the 
restitution campaign today In reply to Hammersley, one John Wilson Croker made use of arguments 
which have, unfortunately, also survived until the present time. He commented sarcastically that ‘it 
was rather too much to expect to interest our feelings for the future conqueror of these classic regions, 
and to contemplate his rights to treasures which we reckoned it flagitious to retain ...’ He went 
further in missing the point of Hammersley’s amendment by saying that ‘the idea of sending them back 
to the Turks was chimerical and ridiculous’. Like most of his contemporaries, Mr Croker could noi 
conceive of Greeks ruling Athens, or of their having any title to their own antiquity. Hammersley had 
taken pains to specify ‘the present, or any future, possessors of the city of Athens’. But in their 
majority the British parliamentarians were too bent upon self-congratulation to see this self-evident 
reservation. The vote was eighty-two in favour of the motion for acquisition and thirty against. 

Other Britons of the day, however, were not so easily reassured about the excellence of Elgin’s 
acquisition. Edward Clarke, whom we met at the outset, recorded his own shock at seeing the damage 
done to the structure, and the symmetry, of the Parthenon: 

One example of this nature may be mentioned, which, while it shows the havoc that has been carried on, will also prove the want 
of taste and utter barbarism of the undertaking. In one of the angles of the pediment, which was over the eastern fagade of the 
temple, there was a horse’s head, supposed to be intended for the horse of Neptune issuing from the earth, when struck by his 
trident, during his altercation with Minerva for the possession of Athens. The head of this anim a l had been so judiciously placed 
by Phidias, that, to a spectator below, it seemed to be rising from an abyss, foaming and struggling to burst from its confined 
situation ... 

All the perspective of the sculpture (if such an expression is admissible) and certainly all the harmony and fitness of its 
proportions, all the effects of attitude and force of composition, depended on the work being viewed precisely at the distance in 
which Phidias designed that it should be seen. Its removal, therefore, from its situation, amounted to nothing less than its 
destruction:- take it down, and all the aim of the sculptor is immediately frustrated! Could any one believe that this was actually 
done? and that it was done, too, in the name of a nation vain of its distinction in the fine art? Nay more, that in doing this, finding 
the removal of this piece of sculpture could not be effected without destroying the entire angle of the pediment, the work of 
destruction was allowed to proceed even to this extent also? 

Clarke asked, if the real intention was to rescue the sculptures from impending ruin, ‘why not exert 
the same influence which was employed in removing them, to induce the Turkish government to adopt 

measures for their effectual preservation? Ah, no! A wiser scheme was in agitation!’ 

The engraver H. W. Williams, author of Travels in Italy, Greece and the Ionian Islands , visited 
Greece a few years later and addressed himself to the claim that the removal of the sculptures was 
beneficial to the fine arts: 

That the Elgin Marbles will contribute to the improvement of Art in England, cannot be doubted. They must certainly open the 
eyes offiritish artists, and prove that the true and only road to simplicity and beauty is the study of nature. But had we a right to 
diminish the interest of Athens for such motives, and prevent successive generations of other nations from seeing these admirable 
sculptures? The Temple of Minerva was spared as a beacon to the world to direct it to the knowledge of purity of taste. What 
can we say to the disappointed traveller who is now deprived of the rich gratification which would have compensated his travel 
and his toil? It will be little consolation to him to say, he may find the sculptures of the Parthenon in England. 

Williams did not confront the argument, which has been used in a slippery manner down the 
generations, that if his own countrymen had not done the deed, then some other nation would have 
perpetrated it. (This line of reasoning was crucial in the Commons debate, which saw Elgin’s 
partisans urging that Britain buy the marbles before he took them elsewhere, all innocent of the fact 
that the Treasury already had the marbles in bond.) It has been said, and perhaps rightly, that if Elgin 
had not removed the marbles the French would have. But Williams’s misgivings are decent and 
eloquent enough, and convey an unease which was shared by many others. 

The Hon. Frederick Sylvester North Douglas, in his essay ‘On Certain Points of Resemblanc 
Between the Ancient and Modern Greeks’, was generally sympathetic to Elgin’s case as set out in the 
Memorandum , but still added that ‘It appears to me a very flagrant piece of injustice to deprive a 
helpless and friendly nation of any possession of value to them ... I wonder at the boldness of the 
hand that could venture to remove what Phidias had placed under the inspection of Pericles.’ Johr 
CamHobhouse was no fanatic on the point but recorded from one of his encounters: 

Yet I cannot forbear mentioning a singular speech of a learned Greek of Joannina, who said to me, ‘You English are carrying off 
the works of the Greeks our forefathers; preserve them well; Greeks will come and redemand them.’ 

Hobhouse’s premonition was to prove correct. Both during and after the national revolution, Greeks 
expressed themselves strongly about the removal of the marbles. The most impressive and convincing 
account of this expression occurs in the life of General Makriyannis, a great popular leader in the 
Greek revolt. Having led the defence of the Herodes Atticus theatre at the Acropolis during the 
fighting of 7 October 1826, and having been severely wounded, he weathered numerous political 
gales after independence and was near the head of the 1843 Constitutional rebellion. He taughl 
himself to read and write, as he says in the painfully composed manuscript that was not to find a 
publisher until 1907, for this reason: 

What I write down I write down because I cannot bear to see the right stifled by the wrong. For this reason I learned to write in 
my old age and to do this crude writing, because I did not have the means to study it when I was a child. 

In 1943, speaking to the Greek troops in exile in Alexandria, George Seferis gave a talk or 
Makriyannis. The address can be found in translation in Rex Warner’s edition of On The Greek Style. 
Makriyannis had, it seems, preserved two ancient statues until the liberation of Greece from the 
Turks. After the Sultan had finally conceded independence, Makriyannis found that some of his 
soldiers were thinking of selling the statuary to two European travellers at Argos. In Makriyannis’s 

I took these soldiers aside and told them this: You must not give away these things, not even for ten thousand talers', you must not 
let them leave the country; it was for them we fought. 

Seferis, a future diplomat and Nobel Prize-winner, who was to enrich Greek poetry more than any ol 
his contemporaries, told this to the Greek soldiers as they sat in exile awaiting their own day of 
liberation, and said: 

You see? It is not Lord Byron speaking, nor a great scholar nor an archaeologist. It is a shepherd’s son from Roumelia, his body 
covered with wounds. ‘It was for them we fought.’ There is more weight in this sentence of a simple man than in the effusions of 
fifteen gilded academies. Because it is only in feelings like this that the culture of a nation can be rooted - in real feelings, and not 
in abstractions about the beauty of our former ancestors or in hearts that have become dried up from a cataleptic fear of the 
common people. 

There is no reason to think that Seferis, faced as he was with the necessity of inspiring Greeks for a 
terrible battle against Nazism, was in anyway exaggerating. We know that in 1821, when the Greeks 
were besieging the Acropolis, they learned that the Turkish defenders were melting down the lead 
clamps of the buildings to make improvised bullets. Prominent among the Greek besiegers was 
Kyriakos Pittakis, who later became the first General Keeper of Antiquities of Greece. According tc 
the distinguished archaeologist Professor A. Rizos Rangavis: 

After Pittakis had heard what was happening and had conferred with his fellow-soldiers, the Athenians sent a quantity of lead 
bullets to the Ottomans on the Acropolis so that they might desist from their acts of destruction. Those who in the old days fed 
their starving enemies performed an act of philanthropy, but no nobler action in time of war than this, worthy of the highest 
civilisation, can ever have been undertaken. 

We also know that, even at the height of their battle for independence, the Greek authorities attempted 
to preserve the classical heritage. In 1825 Alexander Mavrocordatos, Secretary-General of the 
Provisional Greek Administration, wrote to a Dutch colonel who had been excavating for his owr 
benefit and told him that while a formal complaint was in preparation, ‘I shall consider myself happy 
to be able to defer the execution of these orders, in the hope that you will remedy the situation by 
restituting the seized antiquities.’ Mavrocordatos went on: 

However, the export of any antiquity is prohibited by law. Force may violate this law, since we would need more people to guard 
the antiquities than we have citizens. But we shall never cease to claim what belongs to us, and greatly respecting the wisdom of 
the governments of Europe, we are convinced that they will recognise our claims. 

It seems evident, then, that there was a consciousness of the Greek heritage at all levels, from the 
humble Makriyannis upward. Those who claim or imply otherwise are simply ignoring the historical 
and literary record. The founder of the common lie about Greek indifference is probably the 
Reverend Philip Hunt, Elgin’s chaplain at Constantinople and, as we have seen, his energetic seconc 
in the removal. We know from Lusieri, in a letter of 11 January 1802 concerning the Erechtheion, 

The details of these various little monuments are masterpieces. Without a special firman it is impossible to take away the last (the 
Pandroseion). The Turks and the Greeks are extremely attached to it, and there were murmurs when Mr Hunt asked for it. 

Yet in 1816, asked by the Commons Select Committee whether there ‘was any opposition shown b> 
any class of the natives’, the Reverend Hunt replied, ‘None.’ On the evidence of his own closesi 
collaborator, that was a lie. But the misrepresenting of ‘the natives’ went deeper than that and has 
persisted ever since. 

The next occasion on which I can find the marbles as a subject of public controversy is ar 
exchange, published in 1890-91, in the London magazine The Nineteenth Century. But to judge from 
the tone and the references, all participants in the debate assumed a knowledge of the argument in 
their readers. In an article uncompromisingly headed ‘Give Back the Elgin Marbles’, Frederic 

Harrison denounced the excuses for retention as ‘sophism’ and declared: 

The Parthenon Marbles are to the Greek nation a thousand times more dear and more important than they can ever be to the 
English nation, which simply bought them. And what are the seventy-four years that these dismembered fragments have been in 
Bloomsbury when compared to the 2,240 years wherein they stood on the Acropolis? 

Harrison could argue more trenchantly than his predecessors at the time of the acquisition, because 
Greece was now independent and an accepted member of the European comity of nations. Old 
excuses such as Turkish indifference or vandalism towards the statues had lost their force. So had 
high-sounding arguments about the potential benefit to the English fine arts. As Harrison pointed out, 
‘Athens is now a far more central archaeological school than London.’ 

The arguments against doing the generous thing seem to have been much the same in 1890 as they 
are today. Harrison anticipated them by saying: 

Of course the man in Pall Mall or in the club armchair has his sneer ready - ‘Are you going to send all statues back to the spot 
where they were found?’ This is all nonsense. The Elgin Marbles stand upon a footing entirely different from all other statues. 
They are not statues: they are integral parts of a unique building, the most famous in the world; a building still standing, though in a 
ruined state, which is the national symbol and palladium of a gallant people, and which is a place of pilgrimage to civilised man. 
When civilised man makes his pilgrimage to the Acropolis ... he goes on to the Parthenon, and there he marks the pediments 
which Lord Elgin wrecked and left a wreck stripped of their figures; he sees long bare slices of torn marble, whence the frieze 
was gutted out, and the sixteen holes where the two ambassadors wrenched out the metopes. 

Symmetry, and consideration for it, formed a large part of Harrison’s case. As he pointed out: 

In the case of at least one metope the Acropolis Museum possesses one half, the other half of which is in London. So that of a 
single group, the invention of a consummate genius, and the whole of which is extant, London shows half in marble and half in 
plaster cast, and the Acropolis shows the other half in marble and the rest in plaster. Surely it were but decent, if we honestly 
respect great art, that the original be set up as a whole. 

Harrison recalled as a precedent the case of the Ionian islands, which had been restored to Greece b> 
Gladstone in an act of imagination and magnanimity a few years previously ‘because we value the 
good name of England more than unjust plunder’. 

Such was the impact of Harrison’s article that when the editor of The Nineteenth Century, Mr 
James Knowles, entered the lists against him in March 1891 he had to have recourse to the heaviesi 
sarcasm His entire reply was based on the teasing assumption that Harrison was only jesting, and the 
reply itself is entitled ‘The Joke About the Elgin Marbles’. To his sarcasm Knowles addec 
condescension - a typically lethal English cocktail - speaking of ‘the mixed little population which 
now lives upon the ruins of ancient Greece’. He made the baseless and fantastic suggestion that if the 
marbles were returned the Greek government might ‘yield to the offer of a million sterling from 
Berlin, or two millions sterling from New York’. He chose to ignore Harrison’s insistence that the 
Parthenon has a significance to Greeks which transcends that of all other buildings, and speculated 
sardonically on the presumed need to give back all other Greek antiquities, and even Assyrian ones. 
He made the most of the deterioration of the surviving marbles, which had indeed taken place 
meanwhile, but rather spoiled his point by exaggeration and, towards the end, by absurdity: 

What cannot the platform-Pharisee say of Gibraltar, Malta, India, Burrnah, Hong Kong, the Cape, Canada, New Zealand, 
Australia, IRELAND? Will not every imaginable motive cry aloud in his Pecksniffian bosom to purge himself of all this perilous 
stuff till England, denuded of every possession which God and her forefathers gave her, shall stand up naked and not ashamed in 
the midst of a Salvation Army clamour - clothed only in self-righteousness and self-applause and the laughing stock of the whole 

This is the logic of ‘giving back the Elgin Marbles’ ... 

Here is John Bull up on his hind legs. Time has not dealt kindly with Mr Knowles, since all the 
territories he mentions (except, at the time of writing, Gibraltar and Hong Kong) have achieved self- 
government, and of these two remaining even Hong Kong has been conceded the principle. It might be 
amusing to make out a case that the return of the marbles today would imperil the rock-apes of 
Gibraltar and the garrison of the Falklands, but no modern defender of Lord Elgin has had the wit tc 
try it. 

The Harrison-Knowles exchange elicited three interesting responses from widely differing 
individuals: Constantine Cavafy, George Nathaniel Curzon and Sir Roger Casement. Writing in th< 
Rivista Quindicinale of April 1891, Cavafy took strong issue with Knowles: 

He thinks that if the marbles are restored, Gibraltar, Malta, Cyprus, India must be given away also - forgetting that if those 
possessions are necessary to British trade and to the dignity and safety of the British Empire, the Elgin Marbles serve no other 
purpose than that of beautifying the British Museum. He regards as trivial Mr Harrison’s remark that the climate of Bloomsbury 
is injurious to the sculptures and expresses the fear that, if handed over to Greece, they might be destroyed ‘any day in the next 
great clash of the Eastern question’, forgetting that wisdom dictates the remedy of present evils before guarding against future 

Perhaps Cavafy was taking Mr Knowles too seriously in his imperialism (and it is interesting tc 
notice his inclusion of Cyprus in a list from which Knowles had actually omitted it). At all events, 
Cavafy’s closing paragraph shows the strength of his feeling on the point: 

It is not clear to me what motives prompted him to write this article; whether solicitude for the artistic wealth of his country, or 
mere literary cacoethes scribendi. If the former, it ought to be borne in min d that it is not dignified in a great nation to reap profit 
from half-truths and half-rights; honesty is the best policy, and honesty in the case of the Elgin Marbles means restitution. If the 
latter, and he wrote merely in order to outrival the eloquent, clever and sensible article of Mr Harrison, it is much to be regretted 
that he did not consider the great French author’s warning, Qui court apres l’esprit attrape la sottise. 

In the very same month, George Nathaniel Curzon penned a letter from the Alpine resort of Davos tc 
the editor of the Fortnightly Review. He testified to how much he had enjoyed the Harrison-Knowles 
combat, and gave as his reason for opposing Harrison the familiar argument that the marbles could be 
seen by more people if kept in London. Still, he allowed that he did not feel entirely comfortable with 
the wholesale removal of the Parthenon’s decoration. As a compromise: 

I do advocate the lim ited restitution of such of the Parthenon relics as can again be placed, amid their original surroundings,in 
situ ipso antiquo on the sacred rock, and whose empty places there are now filled, to the compunction of the British and the 
disgust of every observer, with hideous replicas in terracotta. 

Curzon was alluding to the caryatid of the Erechtheion and to a portion of the frieze. Like so man) 
Greek and English observers, he resorted to the anthropomorphic when discussing the caryatid, which 
was ‘to be seen in the long gallery at the British Museum, where, like Niobe, she seems to weep hei 
desolation in stone’. In advocating restitution he guarded himself against the routine accusation of 
‘setting a precedent’ by stating that he favoured the return only if the sculptures could actually be 
reaffixed. Unlike some, however, he was not contemptuous of the Greek stewardship of the 

I was there less than a year ago and have been there before. I can speak for the safe and scrupulous guardianship of the 
Athenian ruins. I remember the gendarmes, as polite as they are numerous, who hover amid the fallen architraves and shattered 
drums. I feel certain that under their watchful eye the caryatid would be safe with her sisters. 

Curzon closed his long and in some ways contradictory letter with the thought that an exchange might 
be possible: the caryatid and the panels for the missing portion of the Panathenaic procession. Failing 


For my own part, as an Englishman, I would sooner, were the proposal of restoration to be made, that it were made 
spontaneously and without arriere pensee. A free gift is preferable in such a case to a bargain, a restitution to an exchange. 

Like Cavafy’s letter, Curzon’s contains a disclosure from the unconscious. In recommending the zeal 
of the Athenian gendarmerie who protected the Acropolis, Curzon said, ‘I do not think even the 
craftiest of Arries could clamber unobserved with hammer or pointed walking stick to the Victory’s 
frieze.’ This seems a bit harsh, given the undoubted breeding and lineage of those English and Scots 
who actually had defaced the temple. Often, in the arguments of those who advocate retention of the 
marbles and of those who temporise about it, one hears the tones and assumptions of those who 
wondered if the workers would keep coal in their bath, or whether Indians were ‘ready for self- 

No such inhibitions applied to Roger Casement, who was on his celebrated mission to the Conge 
when he read Harrison’s article. So stirred was he by the argument that he composed a poem and sent 
it to London, where it appeared in the Review of Reviews of July 1891. (After Casement’s executior 
the Observer republished the poem on 21 May 1916.) 

Give back the Elgin marbles; let them lie 
Unsullied, pure beneath an Attic sky. 

The smoky fingers of our northern clime 
More ruin work than all the ancient time. 

How off the roar of the P ire an Sea 
Through column’d hall and dusky temple stealing 
Hath struck these marble ears, that now must flee 
The whirling hum of London, noonward reeling. 

Ah! let them hear again the sounds that float 
Around Athena’s shrine on morning’s breeze - 
The lowing ox, the bell of c linking goat 
And drowsy drone of far Hymettus’ breeze. 

Give back the marbles, let them vigil keep 
Where art still lies, o’er Pheidias’ tomb, asleep. 

(Lukunga Valley, Cataract Region of the Lower Congo) 

This is a poem of, perhaps, more merit in feeling than in execution. It is decidedly superior to Thomas 
Hardy’s sentimental Christmas in the Elgin Room , which was begun in 1905: 

‘What is the noise that shakes the night, 

And seems to soar to the Pole-star height?’ 

‘Christmas bells, 

The watchman tells, 

Who walks this hall that blears us captives with its blight.’ 

‘And what, then, mean such clangs, so clear?’ 

‘’Tis said to have been a day of cheer, 

And source of grace 
To the human race 

Long ere their woven sails winged us to exile here. 

‘We are those whom Christmas overthrew 
Some centuries after Pheidias knew 
How to shape us 
And be drape us 

And to set us in Athena’s temple for men’s view. 

‘0 it is sad now we are sold - 
We gods! for Bore an people’s gold, 

And brought to the gloom 
Of this gaunt room 

Which sunlight shuns, and sweet Aurore but enters cold. 

‘For all these bells, would I were still 
Radiant as on Athena’s Hill.’ 

‘And I, and I!’ 

The others sigh, 

‘Before this Christ was known, and we had men’s good will.’ 

Thereat old Helios could but nod, 

Throbbed, too, the Uissus River-god, 

And the torsos there 
Of deities fair, 

Whose lim bs were shards beneath some Acropolitan clod: 

Demeter too, Poseidon hoar, 

Persephone, and many more 
Of Zeus’ high breed, 

All loth to heed 

What the bells sang that night which shook them to the core. 

Both poems have in common the sense that there is something aesthetically inapt or inapposite in the 
separation of the marbles from their Helladic context. This feeling has from the first been a large pari 
of the case for restitution. And time, which might have been expected to do its emollient work, has not 
succeeded in reconciling many people to the idea of Bloomsbury as the ‘natural’ repository. 

Thus, when A. H. Smith published his classic defence of Lord Elgin in 1916, he was bein^ 
disingenuous by treating the issue as closed. It had never ceased to be a matter of warm controversy 
and there was no reason to believe, in 1916, that it ever would. The next occasion on which it was 
opened was in 1924. The young Harold Nicolson was working at the Near Eastern Department of th< 
Foreign Office, specialising in Greek affairs. As he wrote: 

It was natural, therefore, that in my dual capacity as a Foreign Office clerk and a student of Byron’s writings, I should draw 
attention to the fact that on April 19, 1924 would occur the centenary of Byron’s death at Missolonghi, and that I should suggest 
to my chiefs that some action should be taken by the Government to celebrate that occasion. The Foreign Secretary at the time 
was Ramsay MacDonald, who was also Prime Minister. In the min ute which I addressed to him on the subject I had with 
becoming modesty suggested that a section of the British fleet might visit the Gulf of Corinth on that day and fire a salute off 
Missolonghi. Ramsay MacDonald, being a Celt, was of a high romantic disposition. He sent me back my min ute with the words, 
‘Certainly! But we must do more than that. Make further suggestions.’ 

Thus emboldened, Nicolson decided to go for broke: 

Burning with excitement I set myself to strike while the iron was hot. Here at last, it seemed to me, was the opportunity to put 
right an ancient wrong, here if ever was a chance to retrieve an act of shame and by a wide gesture of generosity to give to 
Byron’s centenary the lustral beauty of a feast of compensation. 

I was too trained a civil servant to put my suggestions in an extreme or emotional fomi. I adopted the schematic system, 
dividing my suggestions up into paragraphs marked (I), (II) and (III) and into sub-paragraphs marked (a), (b) and (c). I admitted 
that it would perhaps be difficult after all these years to restore to the Parthenon the sculptures (the Theseus, the Maidens and 
the metopes) of which it had been despoiled. I pointed out, however, that in the adjoining Temple of the Erechtheum one of the 
caryatids was missing and its place taken by a terra-cotta effigy. 

Every Athenian, and all visitors to Athens, knew that this missing statue was in the British Museum, having been shipped from 

Greece by Lord Elgin in 1800. Surely it would be fitting to replace this missing statue and let it be known that this gesture of 
compensation was made as a tribute to Greece’s independence and as a fitting memorial of the centenary of Byron’s death. If, I 
added, the loss of the caryatid would prove more than the nerves of the museum authorities or the British public could endure, 
then at least we might restore the column of the colonnade, the presence of which in London was unknown to the public. The 
absence of which from the Erechtheum was obvious to every eye. 

Mr MacDonald was himself, I still believe, agreeable to my proposal. He explained to me with his accustomed cloudy 
kindliness that politics were the art of the possible and that what I had suggested was artless and impossible. If we restored the 
single column, then why not restore the caryatid? And if we restored the caryatid, then we would be prejudicing our whole case 
and leaving ourselves with no justification at all for retaining the other and even more valuable sculptures. I replied that never, 
since the days of Lord Elgin, had any such justification existed. He shook his white locks sadly at me. ‘You forget,’ he said, ‘that 
had not these lovely things been preserved in England, they would have been destroyed during the Greek War of Independence.’ 

Yet again the door was slammed shut with, yet again, a paltry and evasive excuse for good measure. 
As Nicolson tried to point out, those marbles that had survived Lord Elgin had also survived the 
Greek War of Independence. But even if he had carried this point, it is a certainty that another reasor 
for inaction would have been contrived. As it turned out this time, Ramsay MacDonald would not gc 
as far as Lord Curzon had proposed to go more than thirty years previously. 

Nicolson’s memoir of the dispute is noteworthy, also, for containing the first challenge I can find 
to the wording of Elgin’s original firman. The firman was in Italian, a language which Elgin admitted 
in another context he did not understand well. As Nicolson points out, the firman 

only authorised Lord Elgin to remove from ‘The Temple of the Idols’, namely the Parthenon ,qualche pezzi di pietra, ‘a few 
pieces of stone’. Even the most free and lavish translation of the Italian tongue cannot twist these words into meaning a whole 
shipload of sculptures, columns and caryatids. 

The qualche distinction between ‘some’ and ‘any’ was also lost on Ramsay MacDonald, whom only 
a man as tolerant as Nicolson could have described as ‘romantic’ in his disposition. Thus, even the 
modest proposal to return ‘some’ (the caryatid, perhaps) is at once construed as the prelude to 
returning ‘any’ or even (heaven forfend) ‘all’. Before you know where you are, you are being asked 
to give independence to India. This is not the first or last time we encounter the British colonial 
horror of ‘precedent’. 

A few years after Nicolson’s defeat at the hands of MacDonald, Sir Philip Sassoon paid a visit tc 
Athens on his way back from India (still then a British possession). Sassoon had been private 
secretary to Earl Haig during the latter’s memorable time as commander-in-chief, and was the man to 
whom the famous ‘backs to the wall’ order of the day was handed (he later gave the original to the 
British Museum). As a trustee of the National Gallery, the Tate and the Wallace Collection, Sassoor 
was a pillar of the museum establishment in London. Yet he wrote to The Times in his capacity as 
Under-Secretary of State for Air - his other consuming interest - that having visited the Acropolis ‘tc 
see the beautiful and interesting things which Lord Elgin overlooked’: 

Despite the destruction wrought by Venetian bombs and Turkish cannonballs, I found myself wondering whether, after all. the 
noble ruins of the Parthenon and the glorious atmosphere of Athens would not be a better setting than Bloomsbury for the most 
exquisite marbles in the world. 

The views of men like Nicolson and Sassoon were by no means dominant in the Foreign Office or ii 
the political class. And Greek opinion was something that most British governments felt able safely to 
disregard. When Nicos Kazantzakis made his visit to England in 1939, he did not find his Anglophilia 
reciprocated by anything more than a vague but commonplace sympathy for ancient Greece. This state 
of affairs was to undergo a sharp and dramatic alteration. Within two years of Kazantzakis’s trip, 
Great Britain and Greece found themselves the only two European democracies still resisting the 

imposition of Hitler’s New Order. The epic defence of Crete, the despatch of British troops and the 
valiance of the Greek population made an impression which is still vivid in the memory of the 
survivors, and which has inspired some of the best British writing on the war in Europe. (One mighi 
instance Patrick Leigh Fermor, Nigel Clive, Nicholas Hammond and C. M. Woodhouse as pre 

It was at a most crucial juncture in this desperate struggle that the British government had to 
consider a parliamentary question. Tabled on 23 January 1941 by the ToryMP Thelma Cazalet, 
equally well known as Mrs Thelma Cazalet-Keir, the question appears in Hansard thus: 


Miss Cazalet asked the Prime Minister whether he will introduce legislation to enable the Elgin Marbles to be restored to Greece 
at the end of hostilities as some recognition of the Greeks’ magnificent stand for civilisation? 

More thought than was evident had gone into the boring reply given by Clement Attlee, then Lord 
Privy Seal and deputy to Churchill, who rose to say that ‘His Majesty’s Government are not preparec 
to introduce legislation for this purpose.’ 

Every scholar and researcher knows only too well how closely the British Foreign Office guards 
its papers. But there is a grudgingly observed Thirty Year Rule, and thanks to the persistence of 
Professor Robert Browning, then Emeritus Professor of Classics at the University of London, we nov 
know that the fo, which had asked Miss Cazalet to defer her question in order to canvass informed 
opinion, came as close as makes no difference to answering her in the affirmative. 

The then Librarian of the Courtauld Institute, Miss Welsford, told the Foreign Office, Tv< 
consulted my Professors, who agree that provided they are not exposed to the weather, scholarship 
would not suffer if the Elgin Marbles were returned to Greece.’ She added that ‘If they do go back tc 
Greece a special museum must be built for them.’ (This is precisely what the present Greek 
government proposes.) 

The British Museum was naturally invited to state its views, and replied by means of a detailed 
memorandum This memorandum was divided by headings under which, with due solemnity, the 
Historical, Legal, Moral and Practical considerations were reviewed. The Historical section is th< 
weakest of these, because it contains the absurd claim, not even made by Elgin, that ‘most of it [the 
sculpture] was lying on the ground’ prior to removal. This is contradicted even by the Museum’s own 
‘Historical Guide’, which plainly states the established fact that ‘the majority of the sculptures were 
taken down from the building itself. 

The Legal section of the memorandum makes the obvious point that an Act of Parliament would be 
necessary for the restitution - which was exactly what Miss Cazalet’s question had recognised, and 
called for. Most fascinating is the section on Morality, which, after conceding that ‘the Greeks regard 
it as a spoliation of their national heritage under Turkish tyranny’, goes on to observe: ‘The point is 
that the Acropolis of Athens is the greatest national monument of Greece, and that the buildings to 
which the Marbles belonged are still standing or have been rebuilt.’ 

It would be difficult for any supporter of the restitution to summarise the case with greater 
eloquence or economy. Indeed, and as if sensing this, the museum closed its case with the unusual 
objection that ‘Greek pride may reasonably be offended by the patronage ... which proposes the 
return as a favour rather than a right.’ At last, and from within the very bowels of that ‘great body of 
responsible and informed opinion’, came the admission that the Greek view was sound and 
defensible. It might even have been fairer, given this admission, to let the Greeks be the judge of 
whether the return was ‘a favour’ or ‘a right’. 

At the Greek desk of the Foreign Office, no longer ornamented by Harold Nicolson, the job o 
summarising the pros and cons fell to Mr W. L. C. Knight. Mr Knight took note of Britain’s 
‘exceptional relations with Greece’ and also of the fact that letters to The Times on the reopened 
question showed a strong preponderance of feeling in favour of the return. But he questioned whether 
the moment was opportune. The more propitious time, he felt, might be at the end of the war, when 
transport would be safer. ‘It would thus set the seal on Anglo-Greek friendship and collaboration in 
the way that would most appeal - short of the cession of Cyprus - to Greek patriotic sentiment.’ 
Having unconsciously evoked the exchange between Knowles and Cavafy, Knight concluded, ‘For the 
gift to be complete and completely acceptable it should comprise, in addition to the Parthenon friezes, 
the Caryatid and the column from the Erechtheum which all together constitute the Elgin Marbles. ’ 
Knight’s completed memorandum was forwarded to higher authority with a note from his 
immediate superior Mr (later Sir) James Bowker. Bowker, as deputy head of the South-Easteri 
European Department, wrote: 

Everything points to a decision in principle to return the Elgin Marbles to Greece on certain conditions, as enumerated in Mr 
Knight’s memorandum. In order that the memorandum should be quite complete I think it should include recommendations... 

Recommendations. It would scarcely be British without them The reply to Miss Cazalet’s question 
he wrote, 

should be to the effect that the present moment is inopportune for a final decision on a subject which raises several important 
issues, and has given rise to so much controversy in the past; but that hmg will not fail to give the matter their careful and 
sympathetic consideration. 

Bowker’s subsequent addenda all tended to dilute the idea that this was, in any sense but the slightest, 
a ‘decision in principle’. Nonetheless, he clung to the formulation, proposing that: 

Subject to the views of H. M. Minister at Athens, it should be decided in principle to return to Greece the Elgin marbles, including 
the Caryatid and the column from the Erechtheum on the following conditions: 

a. It should be made clear that the decision to return the marbles is in the nature of a gesture of friendship to Greece and is not 
based on any recognition of the principle that the antiquities should be returned to their place of origin. 

b. The marbles should not be returned until after the war. 

c. Before they are returned, adequate arrangements should be made for their proper housing, exhibition and preservation. 

d. hmg should be assured of a share, in perpetuity, in the control of the arrangements to be made for their preservation. 

One can define this proffered chalice as half-full or half-empty. Miss Cazalet’s question had 
specified the return of the marbles ‘at the end of hostilities’, which cannot on the closest reading have 
conflicted with Bowker’s stipulation in point (b) above. The other headings, including the first one 
which states that the marbles are a unique case and not a precedent in themselves, have never ceased 
to be a part of the restitutionist argument. It is unlikely that point (d) would have presented, or would 
now present, any lasting obstacle either. 

Taken together, however, Bowker’s relative stress on ‘the principle’ and ‘the conditions’ is 
essentially bureaucratic. At certain points he makes the best the enemy of the good (as the museum 
did) by implying that nothing short of a perfect restitution would meet the case. There is something of 
the non sequitur in a treatment of the subject that opens with the assertion that ‘everything points to a 
decision in principle to return the Elgin marbles to Greece’ and ends with a set of conditions and 
temporisings that have the effect of relegating the implementation of the principle indefinitely. This, in 
common with the deployment of ‘careful and sympathetic consideration’, is not unfamiliar as a 

Foreign Office tactic. Still, it is worth knowing that the main points of the dispute were so close tc 
resolution in 1941. Some at the Foreign Office even felt that the stance ofHMG could be a bolder one. 
Sir Orme Sargent, for example, the Deputy Under-Secretary, deprecated condition (d) as it affectec 
joint control. ‘This would be all right’, he wrote, ‘if an offer to this effect came spontaneously from 
the Greeks, but for us to demand it would certainly offend Greek amour propre and undo a good deal 
of the psychological value of the gift. Besides, from the technical point of view, I would say it was 
quite unnecessary.’ 

It is odd, and in many ways charming, to find British officials discussing this question so minutely 
and rationally at a time when both Britain and Greece were fighting for survival. And it is of interest 
to see so many aspects of today’s debate being rehearsed in 1941. In effect, the Foreign Office and the 
British Museum privately relinquished the main elements of their moral claim to the Parthenor 
Marbles in the course of that year. Only the attachment of some rather pompous subordinate clauses 
turned a tactical and justifiable postponement of the question into an indefinite shelving of it. W. L. C. 
Knight, noting this distinction or want of distinction in Attlee’s cold reply, minuted to a colleague the 
dispirited words, ‘In these circumstances, and in view of the state of Greek feeling on the subject, the 
less said about the matter the better.’ 

It is hard to avoid the wistful reflection that, with this unoriginal conclusion, the Foreign Office 
missed an opportunity both to right a wrong and to make a laudable gesture of solidarity. But at least 
one feature of the present-day argument was mercifully absent. Nobody rose, in the House or in the 
Foreign Office, to say that the Greek people were ‘not really Greek’ (‘the mixed little populatior 
which now lives upon the ruins of ancient Greece’, as James Knowles had called them in 1891). Tha 
ill-mannered allegation, which has gained a second malicious currency since, was at least spared to 
the Greek resistance of 1941. 

On 10 March 1943, meeting with Greek—American leaders to accept a presentation in hie 
honour, Franklin Delano Roosevelt suddenly asked their president, George Vournas, ‘George, what 
do you know about the Elgin Marbles?’ Vournas replied that he knew of Lord Elgin’s removal of 
shiploads of sculpture, some of which were sunk in the Mediterranean ‘as a result of storms’. 
‘Everybody knows that,’ said Roosevelt, ‘any high-school kid. What I want to know is if the bases 
where the statues were placed originally exist... Napoleon went to Russia and Italy and stole works 
of art; Goering went to the Netherlands and stole works of art. It will be just and proper to raise the 
question of restoration of all stolen property at the peace conference.’ 

Roosevelt went on to say that if the statues could not be replaced on their original plinth, his 
enthusiasm for restoring them would be dulled. The fact that the entablature of the marbles had been 
damaged was hardly the Greeks’ fault, but nor was it Roosevelt’s fault that he did not know this. Like 
all those who had been roused to admiration by Greek wartime valour, he favoured the case for 
restitution, in principle ... 

In the immediate post-war period, British opinion followed the same peaks and troughs as it had 
done in previous decades. The Foreign Office assurance of ‘careful and sympathetic consideration’ 
made no very conspicuous reappearance. There came a moment, on 9 May 1961, when Harold 
Macmillan replied to a question on the point. Asked whether the time had not now come to restore the 
marbles to Athens, he mused, before the House of Commons: 

This is a complicated question which can hardly be dealt with without a great deal of consideration ... There is a problem here. I 
will not dismiss it from my mind, but it raises important questions and would require, I imagine, legislation. 

This took several steps back from the position reached, with much greater care, by Mr Macmillan’s 

former department of state - the Foreign Office - in 1941. He could at least have made the simple 
word ‘legislation’ - which was precisely what was being asked for - sound less like a threat or a 
diabolical invention. If legislation were not required, after all, it would hardly be a matter for Prime 
Minister’s Question Time, or for the House of Commons in the first place. 

On the following day, wrongly detecting signs of weakness in Mr Macmillan’s evasive answer, 
The Times printed an unusually ill-argued leader. Entitled ‘Bought and Paid For’ (which some mighi 
think a tautology and others might suspect of showing an uneasy conscience), the editorial ridiculed 
the Prime Minister for waffling about not having ‘dismissed the idea from his mind’ and bellowed, 
‘The sooner he does so, the better.’ It was a matter, said The Times, of the probity of Lord Elgin, who 
had acquired the marbles by purchase and ‘whose prime motive was their preservation’. Readers 
who have come this far will presumably recognise square one when they see it. 

Nothing more was heard from Mr Macmillan, or of his ‘great deal of consideration’ (which forgol 
to emphasise itself additionally as ‘careful and sympathetic’ but otherwise observed the conventions). 

Another very different figure of the 1960s to concern himself with the issue was the novelist and 
essayist Colin Maclnnes, who waged a sporadic guerrilla war about the marbles in the few media 
outlets that were then available to him A piece scornfully entitled ‘“Elgin” Marbles’ appeared in 
New Society in January 1963. Maclnnes’s friend and memoirist Ray Gosling remembers hin 
flourishing other clippings about the marbles at taxi-drivers and in Greek restaurants, but this article 
is the one that has come down to us from the author of Absolute Beginners. Maclnnes dealt with the 
hoariest objection, concerning the ‘precedent’ that might be set, in this fashion: 

At this point the Museum falls back on its supposedly decisive argument (which I see its Secretary used, predictably, after the 
subject was argued recently in the House of Commons), which runs, ‘if all alien works were returned whence they came, there 
would no longer be any museums.’ 

This is a real old question-begger, and I do wish curators would have the guts to say ‘what we have we hold’ and leave it at 
that. It is an evasive argument because there can be no possible objection to art works of one country being in the museums of 
another under these three essential conditions: 

1. If such works of art exist in profusion. No one (not even, I imagine, Gamal Nasser) would suggest all mummy-cases in the 
world be shipped back to Egypt. 

2. If the people who ori g inally created the works of art no longer, in any real sense, survive. No point, for instance, in 
manhandling Babylonian antiquities back to Iraq. 

3. If the present descendants of the original creators of the art works are incapable of looking after them. There is a good case 
for example, that a sculpture be kept in Great Russell Street rather than on Easter Island. 

‘We can now see’, wrote Maclnnes, ‘how the Museum’s last-ditch argument collapses: for these three 
innocent categories cover most of its possessions, even those acquired dishonestly. But when we 
reflect on the works of art to which the conditions of exculpation do not apply at all we must see that 
the Parthenon marbles are the most sensational example.’ 

Maclnnes proposed, as a face-saving solution, the ‘precedent’ of the Lane Collection. ‘As will be 
recalled, by a legalistic chicanery, we Britons were long enabled to hang on to paintings Sir Hugh 
Lane meant for Dublin, until the ingenious (and oh, so English!) device was hit on, by some craftil) 
benevolent brain, of lending the pictures in perpetuity. Could we hope that, by some similar astute 
stratagem we might one day lend their property to the Greeks, and forget ever to ask it be returned?’ 

Maclnnes closed with a reflection which has struck other commentators: 

Individuals make disinterested gestures rarely enough, and nations almost never. Yet I have such an irrational faith in the ultimate 
decency of my fellow countrymen, that I cannot believe them for ever incapable of doing the right, apt thing. One trouble, I think, 
about us Britons is that even when our intentions are good, we fail to make - or even see - the right move until it is too late. 

So great was the response to his article that Maclnnes was sent on a trip to Athens in the following 
month, in order ‘that I might put to the test my assertion that the Greek people care profoundly aboul 
the Parthenon marbles, and long for their return to the Acropolis’. He found, perhaps not altogether to 
his own surprise, that: 

Without exception the Greeks I interviewed about the marbles were extremely courteous, speaking without recri min ation of what 
they in fact regard as a moral theft by our country from their own, and yet adamant and unanimous in their profound concern to 
get the marbles back where they belong. Most striking of all, I found absolutely no one, of any category, who was unaware of the 
problem, or felt it didn’t matter. 

Maclnnes, whose life and style involved rapid swings between high life and low life, had a number 
of encounters in Athens. Armed with a stack of British Museum postcards of the marbles, he paid a 
number of visits to the Piraeus waterfront. 

My method at first consisted of producing, after an ouzo or two, my pictures, and inviting fellow-boozers to exa min e them. But as 
the spots I had chosen were mostly of an agreeably louche description, the locals somewhat naturally supposed that I was trying 
to reverse the habitual tourist’s role by se llin g postcards, instead of buying them. To correct this misunderstanding, I evolved the 
improved technique of laying the cards casually out on the bar and pretending to write messages home on them. 

Of this rather absurd - yet I believe revealing - experiment, I have to report that in almost all cases the photographs 
immediately aroused general interest (being frequently passed from hand to hand around the joint), and were instantly recognised 
as being Greek ... in many other instances there was no doubt whatever that the bar-flies identified the photographs as being of 
marbles removed to England. 

Maclnnes, who enjoyed contrasts, veered from the profane to the sacred in paying a call on the poel 
Odysseus Elytis - later to become a Nobel laureate. Elytis told him: 

When I saw the marbles at the British Museum, although without fanatical nationalist sentiment, I had a feeling of desolation - as 
if one saw someone in exile. 

Surely such things belong to one place only, where light and atmosphere are right. I think that in London, perhaps because of 
cleaning, they have yellowed, but believe that, if they return one day, the sun will restore to them their initial colour. 

I cannot say if eight m illio n ofus are all conscious of the matter, but am sure a great percentage are, and not only intellectuals 
but simple people. This is not only an aesthetic question, but a moral one. Of course I understand the difficulty, to you, of yielding. 

But to do so would be a victory for art for every country. 

Maclnnes proposed that ‘a beginning might be made, at least, by restoring the caryatid and columr 
taken from the Erechtheum. Their removal involved not only, as in the case of the Parthenon, the 
desecration of a hallowed shrine, but the organic destruction of a cherished building.’ Except when 
quoting Elytis, Maclnnes preferred to stress the altruism of the British rather than the common interes 
of all people in seeing the Parthenon restored as fully as possible. But he was in distinguished 
company in seeing the retention of the marbles, and the feeble excuses for retention, as a kind of 
national embarrassment. 

Although Greeks of all classes and parties continued to press for the return of the marbles, and 
although they never lacked British friends and defenders, the topic seems to have entered a sort of 
recession during the late 1960s and the 1970s. There had been other such lapses of attention before, 
of the kind which befall every issue, and it may be pointless to speculate about the reasons for this 
one. Contributory causes might well include the international isolation and disgrace which overtook 
Greece during the years 1967-74, when a brutish and philistine dictatorship was imposed on the 
country. The policies of the fascist junta included censorship of both ancient and modern Greek 
literature, and were such as to keep many scholars and teachers in prison or out of circulation. In 
response, numerous Western classicists and philhellenes - among whom Sir Maurice Bowra was 
prominent - ceased their official and semi-official contact. The Colonels, furthermore, had a shrewd 

if narrow eye to the importance of Western support. And where they could not achieve support, they 
sought neutrality. As a matter of record (and, some may think, of shame), one quarter from which they 
sought and received toleration was the government, both Labour and Conservative, of Great Britain. It 
was not a propitious period for cultural exchange with wearers of steel helmets and dark glasses, and 
the wearers themselves did not wish to push their luck. An unspoken moratorium overtook the 

The restoration of democracy to Greece in 1974, and the renewal of cultural and political links 
consequent upon Greek accession to the European Community in 1981, gave the argument a new 
impetus. Despite the long history of the debate, it is probably true that most British people date their 
acquaintance with it from about a year after that, when Melina Mercouri began to make her name as 
Minister of Culture in the newly elected Socialist cabinet of Dr Andreas Papandreou. It is no insult tc 
the memory of Mrs Mercouri to say that she added very little to an argument that has gone on steadily 
for nearly two centuries. But it is to her credit that the subject enjoys the enormous international 
attention that it has, for perhaps the first time, attained. 

In August of 1982 Mrs Mercouri flew to Mexico City and made her plea to a meeting of Minister: 
of Culture sponsored by UNESCO. (One sometimes wonders if the hasty British withdrawal ffomthal 
international body was prompted as much by its interest in the marbles as by Mrs Thatcher’s apparent 
willingness to follow any American lead.) On holiday in Euboea that summer were the Britisf 
architect James Cubitt and his Greek-born wife Eleni, the playwright Brian Clark and Professor Joh 
Gould. It occurred to them that a specifically British committee might be formed, in order to maintair 
and popularise the long-held opposition of many British people to the policy of the British Museum 
On their return to London they made contact with Professor Robert Browning, who had expressec 
similar sentiments in an interview with the bbc. In a short time they had engaged the attention of 
newspaper editors, columnists, Members of Parliament of all parties and producers of radio and 
television (and university) debates. In the intervening years, hardly a forum in the country has not 
considered the case of the marbles. Senior opposition politicians, and some who sat on the 
government benches, gave their opinion that the time for restitution had come. It seems very 
improbable that the debate will ever be stilled again. 

Give or take a parliamentary question or two, this is the fullest summary I can make of the history 
of the dispute until its present very active phase. The history justifies the following observations: 

1. The argument is not one between Greece and Britain, still less between the Greek and Britisl 
governments and not at all between the Greek and British peoples. A substantial section of British 
artistic, literary and political opinion has always opposed the separation of the marbles from the 
Parthenon, and all main elements of Greek opinion, when consulted, have done so from the first. 

2. The British government and the British Museum have both, in different ways and at various times 
but most notably in 1941, conceded that the Greek case (and the case of many British critics) is at the 
least a very strong one in natural justice. 

3. The fact that technical, political and semi-legal objections exist, or have existed, is not in dispute. 
The fact that a very simple piece of legislation would overcome these at a stroke is likewise not at 

4. The arguments for restitution have always been in essence the same, whereas the arguments for 
retention have changed repeatedly, and most commonly to suit the short-term convenience of the 
Museum trustees or of the government of the day. The argument about pollution in Athens, for 

example, does not even make an appearance until the 1970s, when atmospheric pollution became a 
matter of general concern in European capitals (see following section). 

5. The Greek claim is a settled all-party matter of long standing, and it is false and misleading to 
suggest that it is ‘used’ by any one faction or politician. 

The Argument: 2 

The arguments against the return of the Parthenon marbles have metamorphosed over the years; the 
exercise involved in dealing with them requires some of the agility and training of a hydra-hunter. 
Allowing for the tendency of retentionists to change the subject, one can say with confidence that their 
arguments involve juggling some, or all, of the following propositions: 

1. The removal of the marbles to Britain was a boon to the fine arts and the study of the classics. 

2. The marbles are safer in London than they would have been in Athens. 

3. The marbles are safer in London than they would be in Athens. 

4. Lord Elgin acted in the spirit of a preservationist. 

5. The return of the marbles would set a precedent for the denuding of great museums and collections. 

6. The Greeks of today are not authentically Greek and have no title, natural or otherwise, tc 
Periclean or Phidian sculpture. 

To take these arguments in order, and at their strongest: 

1. The removal of the marbles to Britain was a boon to the fine arts and the study of the classics. 

It is true that great things were expected of the marbles, and that the force of their example was 
considerable. Lord Elgin’s correspondence in general, and his dealings with the Select Committee ol 
the House of Commons in particular, shows him at his best even when he is stretching this aspect 
further than it will go. Others who could not have hoped to profit by the sale of the marbles to the 
nation were infected with the same enthusiasm. William Hazlitt expressed the hope, in the Examiner 
of 16 June 1816, that the marbles might Tift the fine arts out of the limbo of vanity and affectation ... 
in which they have lain sprawling and fluttering, gasping for breath, wasting away, vapid and 

A tall order. Yet there was no feigning in Benjamin Robert Haydon’s love for the collection. His 
drawings went as far afield as Weimar, where they decorated the home of Goethe himself, who urged 
German scholars to go to London rather than Athens. The celebrated Mrs Hemans, in her wideL 
admired poem ‘Modern Greece’, also chose the year 1816 to ask: 

And who can tell how pure, how bright, a flame 
Caught from these models, may illu min e the West? 

What British Angelo may rise to fame, 

On the free isle what beams of art may rest? 

Haydon went so far as to say that the year 1816 ‘produced an Aera in public feeling’. This was ar 
admirable and selfless hope rather than a statement of the case. But is there any evidence of its 

Traces of what might be termed ‘the Phidias effect’ are to be found all over the British Isles. The 
traveller who leaves Waverley Station for Princes Street in Edinburgh may wonder (in my owr 
boyhood I did wonder) what those columns are doing on the eastern skyline of the city. They are, in 
fact, the only lasting result of Lord Elgin’s suggestion that the national monument to the Scottish 
heroes of the Napoleonic War be a full-scale reproduction of the Parthenon. Like so much in Elgin’s 
career, this project foundered for want of funds, but Cal ton Hill might perhaps have lent point to 
Edinburgh’s claim to be ‘the Athens of the North’. Elgin’s campaign to have the new Houses ol 
Parliament designed in the Greek style was similarly thwarted, though not this time by financial 

The Parthenon frieze, in whole or in part, has nonetheless become familiar in English architecture 
and design in a manner that must be owed to Elgin. It appears, courtesy of Decimus Burton, on the 
Athenaeum Club (it would be churlishly modernist to laugh at a gift to Pallas Athena decorating 
Britain’s most misogynistic day-care centre) and on the Hyde Park arch. The famous head of Selene’s 
horse was incorporated by William Threed on the pediment of the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace 
and in the monument to Sir William Ponsonby in St Paul’s. The coincidence of the victory a 
Waterloo with the acquisition of the marbles is preserved and acknowledged in the commemorative 
vase in Buckingham Palace Gardens and in Pistrucci’s medal, both of which feature the horsemen ol 
the Parthenon frieze. Sir John Soane made use of the caryatid in his own architecture, as did man) 
lesser imitators. 

The staunchest John Bull would not claim this as an especially rich harvest, when it is 
remembered that the enhancement of English fine arts was the great justification for the detachment of 
the marbles at the time. But there was and is one indubitable, lasting and attractive result of the 
removal. It occurred and occurs in English poetry. Byron’s verse polemic has already been quoted at 
length. It is only fair to add that John Keats, at the age of twenty-one, was introduced to the marbles 
by Haydon, made several enthralled visits to the collection and composed two sonnets as a result. 
One would not wish to be without them: 


My spirit is too weak - mortality 
Weighs heavily on me like unwilling sleep, 

And each imagin’d pinnacle and steep 
Of godlike hardship tells me I must die 
Like a sick Eagle loo king at the sky. 

Yet ’tis a gentle luxury to weep 
That I have not the cloudy winds to keep 
Fresh for the opening of the morning’s eye. 

Such dim-conceived glories of the brain 
Bring round the heart an indescribable feud; 

So do these wonders a most dizzy pain, 

That ming les Grecian grandeur with the rude 
Wasting of old Time - with a billowy main - 
A sun - a shadow of magnitude. 

Haydon, forgive me that I cannot speak 
Definitively on these mighty things; 

Forgive me that I have not Eagle’s wings - 
That what I want I know not where to seek: 

And think that I would not be over meek 
In rolling out upfollow’d thunderings, 

Even to the steep of Heliconian springs, 

Were I of ample strength for such a freak - 
Think too, that all these numbers should be thine; 

Whose else? In this who touch thy vesture’s hem? 

For when men star’d at what was most divine 
With brow less idiotism - o’erwise phlegm - 
Thou hadst beheld the Hesperean shine 
Of their star in the East, and gone to worship them. 

Scant wit is required to see, in the idea of ‘browless idiotism’ and ‘o’erwise phlegm’, the image of 
the Richard Payne Knight faction, who thought the marbles ‘Roman, from the time of Hadrian’. Thest 
two sonnets, from March 1817, are their own tribute to authenticity. It also seems probable that ‘the 
heifer lowing at the skies’ in Keats’s ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ is taken from the extraordinary head on 
slab XL of the south frieze. 

There is no argument against those who say that more people have seen the marbles as a 
consequence of their being taken from Athens. The same could be asserted if the frieze was now a 
permanent exhibit at Disneyland. All that may be said with certainty is that both the act of removal 
and the act of installation in London led to some great efforts, for and against, in poetry and prose. 
Who can say what might be generated, in this line, by the reunion of the marbles with their parent 
building? At any event, we should not be losing the verses of either Byron or Keats. It may be mooi 
whether the elevation of British taste was sufficient reason for the prying loose of the Parthenon’s 
sculpture in the first place. But even if that had been the whole intention, the result did not fulfil Mrs 
Hemans’s ardent patriotic hope. No ‘British Angelo’ can be said to have arisen as a consequence. 

2. The Marbles are Safer in London that they would have been in Athens. It is impossible to prove a 
contrary. The marbles might have survived the Greek revolution and every subsequent vicissitude, or 
they might not have done. They might have been carried off by the French, or they might not have 
been. It is profitless to speculate, just as it is profitless to speculate about the alternative fate of the 
cargo of the Mentor. 

All we can say for sure is that the Greeks always wished the best care to be taken of the marbles, 
and that extraordinary measures were taken to protect the Parthenon throughout the Greek war ol 
liberation. It can also be shown that on at least two occasions they were in some peril in London. 

If you turn up the minutes of the British Museum Standing Committee for 8 October 1938 (pag< 
5488), you will find the alarming heading ‘Damage to Sculpture of the Parthenon’. Under this heading 
appears the following: 

The Director reported that through unauthorised and improper efforts to improve the colour of the Parthenon sculpture for Lord 
Duveen’s new gallery, some important pieces had been greatly damaged. He asked for a Board of Inquiry to consider the nature 
of the damage and the policy of the Trustees in regard to publication of the facts; to determine the responsibility for the damage, 
and to advise upon the necessary disciplinary action. The Committee appointed Lord Harlech, Lord Macmillan, Sir W illia m Bragg, 
Sir Charles Peers and Sir Wilfred Greene as the Board of Inquiry, with power to take whatever action they should consider 
necessary, and directed that a Meeting be summoned for Tuesday 11th October, at 5 o’clock. 

The staff members who were interviewed by this Board were Frederick Pryce, Keeper of Greek ant 
Roman Antiquities, his assistant Roger Hinks, and Arthur Holcombe, the Museum’s Chief Cleaner 
On 10 December 1938, the Board of Inquiry presented its report and recommendations: 

Lord Macmillan presented the Second Report of the Board of Inquiry into damage done to sculpture of the Parthenon. He added 
that since the drafting of this document Mr Piyce had produced medical evidence confir min g the Trustee’s view that he was not 
in good health, and asked that the Board of Inquiry might have an opportunity of reconsidering their report of Mr Piyce’s 

responsibility in the light of this new information. The Committee agreed that the Board of Inquiry should embody these facts in 
an appendix to their Report, but that the Committee was already well enough informed to take action. After full discussion the 
Committee accepted the recommendation of the Board in regard to publication, and in regard to disciplinary action decided to 
recommend to the General Board that Mr Pryce be given leave to retire from the service of the Trustees on account of ill-health, 
and that Mr Hinks be severely reprimanded for neglect of duty and reduced 10 years in seniority and pay. Mr Pryce was granted 
a month’s sick leave pending the issue of the medical certificate necessary for his retirement. The Committee also directed that a 
record be made of the pieces of sculpture which had been subjected to improper methods of cleaning, and of the damage so far 
as this could be ascertained in each case. 

The Museum never acknowledged publicly what had occurred, and the matter was stonewalled al 
Question Time in the House of Commons. But there is a tantalising reference in the Public Recon 
Office at Kew to a Foreign Office file labelled ‘Treatment of Elgin Marbles: use of copper win 
brushes to clean the marbles thus damaging the surface’. The file itself, like so many interesting 
entries in the pro, has been destroyed. 

Arthur Holcombe gave an interview to a newspaper on 19 May 193 9, in which he made the 
astounding admission that he and his cleaners ‘were given a solution of soap and water and ammonia. 
First we brushed the dirt off the Marbles with a soft brush. Then we applied the solution with the 
same brush. After that we sponged them dry, then wiped them over with distilled water ... To get off 
some of the dirtier spots I rubbed the Marbles with a blunt copper tool. Some of them were as black 
with dirt as that grate,’ said Mr Holcombe, pointing to his hearth. He went on to say that several ol 
his men had followed his example, but there was no harm in it, ‘because the copper is softer than the 
stone. I have used the same tools for cleaning marble at the museum under four directors.’ 

These disclosures drew a letter from Jacob Epstein to the editor of The Times , dated the same day 
as Mr Holcombe’s interview was published: 


In your issue of May 2, 1921, I protested against the ‘cleaning’ and restoring of the Greek marbles at the British Museum, 
particularly the Demeter of Cnidus. My protest went unheeded and I was jeered at for concerning myself with what I was told 
was no business of min e. Eighteen years have passed, and now the cleaning and restoration of the Elgin marbles are causing 
uneasiness, and questions are asked as to whether the famous marbles have been damaged in the process. The British Museum 
authorities have admitted that any change in the marbles is only to be distinguished by the practised eye ‘of an expert’, wherever 
that resides! An interview published in the Press with the head cleaner of the marbles has elicited the information that a copper 
tool ‘softer than marble’ (how incredible) was used. Why a cleaner and six hefty men should be allowed for 15 months to tamper 
with the Elgin marbles as revealed by the head cleaner passes the comprehension of a sculptor. When will the British Museum 
authorities understand that they are only the custodians and never the creators of these masterpieces? 

In response to a patronising letter from Sir George Hill, Epstein returned to the lists on 25 May 1939 
He wrote: 

It is not a question of only ‘a mellow golden patina’ but of what is far more important, the scraping of the surfaces, and the effect 
of that scraping on the planes of the marble. 

I have myself seen the workmen at the museum at work on the marbles and have been horrified by the methods employed. 

Sir George ignores the statement of the chief cleaner, Mr Arthur Holcombe, three days ago in the Press, that he had been in the 
habit at the museum, under all of the last four directors, of cleaning all the marbles with ‘a blunt copper tool’ and that he started 
on the Elgin marbles about two years ago and used this tool. ‘Copper is softer than stone,’ he says. The absurdity of the ‘softer 
than marble’ theory is manifest. Has Sir George never heard of the bronze toe of the statue of St Peter in Rome kissed away by 
the worshippers’ soft lips? 

‘Putting me in my place’ seems to be of greater importance to the museum officials than the proper care and protection of the 
Greek marbles. 

The whole thing boils down not to an academic discussion on cleaning and patination, but to the grave question as to whether 
the Elgin marbles and the other Greek marbles are to be kept intact, or to be in the jeopardy of being periodically treated, and 
perhaps, in the end, being permanently ruined by the museum officials through their lack of sculptural science. 

The public is dissatisfied with the present state of affairs, and clearly uneasy about the present condition of the Elgin marbles, 

and must consider the answer for the Treasury in Parliament by Captain Crookshank to a question about them, as both equivocal 
and misleading. It was an ad mis sion of damage with an attempt to minim ise the responsibility of the Trustees of the British 

Somewhere there is a report on the damage, which seems to have principally affected the heads of the 
Horses of the Sun. It was submitted to the Standing Committee during the tenure of Sir John Forsdyk 
as director on 14 January 1939. It will not become available for public scrutiny until 1997. 

Two years later, the British Museum’s Duveen Gallery was severely damaged by Nazi bombing. 
The Parthenon marbles had only just been removed - some to a vault and the remainder to a disused 
London underground station at the Aldwych. Prior to these precautions, they had been protected onl> 
by timber and sandbags. Imagine if, at a time when Britain and Greece were allies against Hitler, the 
marbles had been pulverised in the very place to which they had been removed ‘for their own good’. 

The second of these two episodes was far less grave than the first, and neither need detract from 
the credit that is due to the British Museum for its care and liberality. But if there are to be arguments 
about safety and conservation, then they must take account of time and chance in London as well as of 
time and chance in Athens. 

3. The Marbles are safer in London than they would be in Athens. 

This is undoubtedly the strongest argument for the retentionists, and also the argument which carries 
the most weight among Greeks. The degeneration of the atmosphere of Athens and the formation of a 
toxic cloud of fumes and vapour ( nefos ) over the city, is a continual source of reproach and would 
even shame a society with less of a heritage to guard. This is felt very keenly by Athenians, who have 
every reason to wish for the dispersal of the nefos on their own account. It should not be all that 
difficult for Londoners to sympathise, in view of the decay that their city has undergone from various 
forms of acid rain. Probably the best known example is that of Cleopatra’s Needle, which has 
‘weathered’ more in the short time of its sojourn by the Thames than it ever did when it stood by the 

The word that sums up the problem is ‘oxidisation’. It has taken two equally dismal forms. It has 
been a grave nuisance since the last century, when some well-intentioned but unscientific restoration 
work was carried out. The original Acropolis monuments were built of marble and joined together 
with iron or wooden joints encased in lead. This ancient practice was wiser than many modern ones 
in that it prevented oxidisation from attacking the stonework. However, time did decay the joints, and 
in the nineteenth century these were replaced or reinforced with iron or steel fixtures. It is the rusting 
in these improvised reinforcements that has caused such tragic splintering in the stone. 

The second form of oxidisation is less visible but perhaps more deadly. Precipitates in the air 
itself, formed from sulphur and carbon dioxide, have fouled the atmosphere and the rainfall and eaten 
into the marble from the outside. No city with factories or internal combustion engines is free from 
this modern plague, but Athens suffers from it to a disproportionate extent. The flight from rural 
poverty and (until recently) unchecked urban development have made it a chaotic and crowded city, 
with few restrictions on the emission of exhaust, industrial waste or domestic fumes. There has thus 
been an alarming, exponential increase in pollution. 

Since the fall of the military dictatorship in Greece (which had been unusually promiscuous ir 
granting permits to factory owners, taxi-drivers and other major and minor polluters), there has been 
an effort to reduce toxic matter in the atmosphere, and an effort to preserve the Acropolis from further 
decay. These efforts are not synonymous, but they are and must be complementary. As a general 
necessity for the city, the sulphur content of industrial and transport fuel has been lowered by law, as 

has the lead content in petrol. As a general necessity for the Acropolis, more specific measures have 
had to be taken. 

A major survey of the Acropolis temples has been under way, involving the restriction of public 
access to some buildings. Irreparable stonework has been moved to the Acropolis Museum with its 
controlled atmosphere and temperature, while reconstruction is carried out only with marble from the 
self-same quarry - Pentelicus - as furnished the original stone. Bolts and pins used to hold one block 
to another are made only of titanium, which is proof against oxidisation. 

In 1983 the Greek government announced a ten-year project, consisting of twelve separate 
programmes. Professor Bouras discusses the restoration work elsewhere in this book, but I will 
summarise the most important and far-reaching of these programmes: 

1. Securing the rock itself. The very hill on which the Acropolis sits has been subject to erosion. The 
limestone cap of the rock requires some consolidation, as do the substrata. Wire cables and metal 
nets are being emplaced, and metal rods are being sunk into the rock with anchor plates at the surface 
and high-strength mortar. Cracks are being sealed in order to arrest the erosion caused by rainfall. 

A separate walk with a new surface has been laid, in order to guard against the slow but definite 
damage attributable to the passage of millions of tourist feet each year. 

2. The physical chemistry of pollution is being combated by the use of titanium as specified above, 
and by experiments in the conversion of gypsum (the outcome of oxidised marble) into calcium 

3. A project of archival research is under way, which aims to record the stages of decay and to 
reproduce as nearly as possible the original state of the temples. Photogrammetry has yielded very 
accurate outlines in several important cases. 

4. Gamma-ray radiography has made it possible to locate the iron fittings placed inside the columns 
during earlier restorations and thus to predict, identify and prevent cracks and rust within the 

5. A painstaking effort has been made to take inventory, and to identify and classify the large number 
of stones that bestrew the Acropolis. These include blocks recycled from earlier building efforts and 
disjecta membra from the depredations of war and pillage. Careful tabulation has thrown new light 
on the original structures: it now seems, for example, that there were two unsuspected windows in the 
eastern cella wall of the Parthenon. Fragments of the sixth caryatid have also been found and 
classified. All fragments are photographed, numbered and inventoried and those which are too frail 
or too disfigured to be used in reconstruction are stored in the Acropolis Museum unless their 
provenance is clearly elsewhere. 

6. The Roman temple to Augustus and Rome, and the temple to Athena which pre-dated the Parthenon 
are being restored. 

7. The ancient paths and walks, including the Sacred Way as it was traced in the Panathenaic 
procession, are being relaid. 

8. Where pollution has been found to have had an extreme effect, sculpture has been moved into the 
Acropolis Museum pending further work on calcification and its prevention. Since 1979, when the 
caryatids were removed, some 700 stones have been taken from the temple for repair and treatment. 
The parking of cars in the vicinity and the use by neighbouring houses of oil-fired heating have been 


The buildings, which cannot be moved, have been insured as far as possible against further 
cracking by props and metal plates. These measures are all reversible and are chosen where feasible 
to be inconspicuous to visitors. The fact that the marbles could not be replaced where they stood, 
even under Periclean climatic conditions, is a consequence of the workmanship of Lord Elgin’s mer 
as much as it is of pollution. 

Two comments stand out in the literature on this massive and overdue preservation effort. The first 
occurs in an article by Brian Cook, written when he was Keeper of Greek and Roman Antiquities ii 
the British Museum; he is the author of the Museum’s standard guidebook on the marbles. Introducing 
a discussion of the restoration work in Museums Bulletin , organ of the Bloomsbury-based Museums 
Association, Cook says, ‘Fortunately Greece now has a number of well-trained experts to undertake 
the various highly specialised aspects of conservation work.’ Reviewing the Greek government’s 
exhibition ‘The Acropolis at Athens: Conservation, Restoration and Research’, Cook goes on to sa^ 
that ‘although the task is daunting in its magnitude and complexity ... the present exhibition shows 
what has been done to tackle the problem in the years 1975-83 and points the way to the future.’ 

In their own literature on the subject, the Greek authorities avoid all mention of controversy, 
saying drily and simply, ‘Sad to say, a large part of the sculptural adornment of the buildings was 
removed before the War of Independence.’ 

Since the dispute is not principally between Britain and Greece but between those who do and dc 
not wish to see the sculpture reunited with its architectural context, it is to the Greek government that 
supporters of restitution should address themselves at this point. Athens should be the scene of an 
ever more serious anti-pollution effort for its own sake as well as for the sake of antiquity. 

Insofar as the persistence of atmospheric pollution is used as an argument for the retention of the 
Parthenon marbles in Britain, it appears to be a non sequitur. Every effort has been made - and we 
have the British Museum’s word for it - to restore and conserve the temples of the Acropolis. Where 
they can no longer be exposed to the air, sculptures are placed in an adjoining museum A new 
museum is being prepared for the missing pieces. What more can be expected? The ‘environmental’ 
case for retention ignores the fact that Athens is the historic and aesthetic environment for the 
marbles. In its most extreme form, this argument would justify the removal of the entire Acropolis to a 
giant vault in London or Glasgow or New York. In its rational form, it would mean that the marbles 
should have been returned when the atmosphere of Athens was more pure than the atmosphere of 
London. In its disinterested form, it would mean that the British government would return the marbles 
when measurable pollution fell below a certain calibrated point. As it happens, though, the point is 
the latest in a long line of improvised excuses, and did not make its appearance until relatively 
recently. If the marbles had stayed where they were, and if Athens had become twice as filthy 
meanwhile, nobody would propose removing half the marbles to Bloomsbury and leaving the other 
half to the best devices of the Greeks. It is more than high time that we learned to distinguish betweer 
the disinterested preservation arguments and the merely propagandistic ones. 

4. Lord Elgin acted in the spirit of a preservationist. 

Lord Elgin can be accounted a Samaritan or an ancestor of the preservationists only if one takes hin 
at his own later valuation. There is no objection to admitting that he was a benefactor among other 
things, or by accident. But his own evidence very clearly shows that that is the very best that can be 
said. His first intention was to take the marbles to Broomhall in Scotland. Even if his fallbacl 

justification could be accepted, it would not necessarily justify the continued retention of the marbles, 
and would justify the removal of the entire Acropolis. Like all the arguments of Elgin’s partisans, this 
one is another non sequitur at its strongest and a silliness at its weakest. 

5. The return of the marbles would set a precedent for the denuding of great museums and 

The argument from precedent can be put in absolute or relative terms. In its absolute form, it says thal 
no removal of any artefact from its original home has ever been unjustified, and that petitions for the 
return of any fragment will jeopardise the entire culture of museums and collections. This argument is 
familiar to those who have dealt with any nanny, bureaucrat or sergeant-major, and consists of the old 
stricture ‘What if you let everyone do that?’ 

The relative or relaxed form of the argument acknowledges the distinctions between acquisition, 
trove and plunder, and takes into account the sensibilities of weaker or powerless parties to such 
disputes. While reserving the claim of the integrity of museums and collections, this argument 
concedes that exceptions may arise and may be allowed for. 

The case for the restitution of the Parthenon marbles does not co nfr ont or ‘fit’ either of these 
arguments from precedent very exactly, and for the following reasons: 

1. When made by Greeks, and by some British people, it rests to a considerable extent on the idea ol 
‘right’. In this argument, occupied Greece was stripped of the marbles by force majeure and would, 
if it had the ability to do so, also have the right to repossess them. 

2. The Parthenon is unique not just to Greece but to the civilisation calling itself Western and 
claiming at least partial descent from the enlightenment of antiquity. 

3. However attenuated by war and time, the structure still remains where it has always stood, and in 
recognisable form. 

4. However altered by war and time, the Greek people and the Greek language still exist. 

This unmistakably differentiates the Parthenon from all other possible ‘precedents’, whether 
auspicious or otherwise. There simply is no other case that fulfils all these conditions. 

Still, it may be noted that the British Museum and the British Crown have on occasion madt 
unobtrusive restitutions. One might cite the Ethiopian manuscripts that were returned in 1872; the 
shrine, sceptre and orb of the kings ofKandy returned to Ceylon in the 1930s after being removed by 
Sir Robert Brownrigg in 1815; the bronzes restored to Benin in 1950; the Mandalay Regalia returne( 
to Burma in 1964. Institutional collections and museums have also made gestures of the kind: 
Cambridge University restored the special effects of the Kabaka of Buganda to Uganda on tha 
country’s attainment of independence in 1964. The British Museum agreed in principle to the return ol 
a portion of the beard of the Sphinx, purloined by a British soldier, as a ‘loan’ in 1985. The sky, one 
has to say, did not fall. Yet in none of these instances was the claim as well-founded as that of the 
Greek government. It would be no slight to the other peoples and nations mentioned to say that their 
artefacts were either (a) peculiar to themselves and reverenced only within a relatively small 
compass or (b) as in the case of the beard of the Sphinx, bearing a mainly geographic relation to the 
culture. Pharaonic Egypt is, after all, as remote as its language. There are no Assyrians, Hittites oi 
Babylonians to take up the cry of ‘precedent’. Finally, the beard of the Sphinx, however fragmented, 
does not stand in quite the same aesthetic relation to the whole as the marbles do to the Parthenon. 
And the spoils of the Parthenon were not, except in a very indirect manner, the spoils of war. Greece 

and Britain have never been enemies or rivals in that way, whereas much of the glory of the various 
British museums is colonial or military in origin. 

In a sense, then, the return of the Parthenon marbles does not raise the question of precedent at all. 
Yet insofar as a body of precedent may be said to exist, it mightily favours the Greek claim. Were the 
Greeks and their supporters to be demanding the return of all artefacts, or even the return of all that 
Lord Elgin took away from Greece, it would be a different matter. But they don’t, and it isn’t. The 
issue is the unity and the integrity of the Parthenon; all else is an attempt to change the subject. 

And changing the subject is something that can be done with a vengeance. In aBBC television 
discussion on 15 June 1986, Sir David Wilson, Director of the British Museum, was invited t( 
contrast his opinions with those of Melina Mercouri. Sir David had alreadyexhibited a certain want 
of gallantry when, on an earlier visit to London, Mrs Mercouri had expressed a wish to visit the 
Museum and view the marbles. On that occasion he had said publicly that it was not usual to allow 
burglars to ‘case the joint’ in advance. But once before the cameras he easily improved on this ill- 
mannered exaggeration. ‘To rip the Elgin Marbles from the walls of the British Museum’, he said, ‘is 
a much greater disaster than the threat of blowing up the Parthenon.’ This might have been thought 
hyperbolic, if Sir David had not gone on to say, in response to a mild question about the feasibility of 

Oh, anything can be done. That’s what Hitler said, that’s what Mussolini said when he got the Italian trains to run on time. 

The interviewer, David Lomax, broke in to say: 

You’re not seriously suggesting there’s a parallel between ... 

Sir David was unrepentant: 

Yes, I am. I think this is cultural fascism. It’s nationalism and it’s cultural danger. Enomrous cultural danger. If you start to 
destroy great intellectual institutions, you are culturally fascist. 

LOMAX: What do you mean by cultural fascism? 

WILSON: You are destroying the whole fabric of intellectual achievement. You are starting to erode it. I can’t say you are 
destroying, you are starting to erode it. I think it’s a very, very serious thing to do. It’s a thing that you ought to think of very 
carefully, it’s like burning books. That’s what Hitler did, I think you’ve to be very careful about that. 

LOMAX: But are you seriously suggesting that the people who want the Elgin Marbles to go back to Greece, who feel there’s an 
overwhelming moral case that they should go back, are guilty of cultural fascism? 

WILSON: I t hin k not the people who are wanting the Elgin Marbles to go back to Greece if they are Greek. But I think that the 
world opinion and the people in this country who want the Elgin Marbles to go back to Greece are actually guilty of something 
very much approaching it, it is censoring the British Museum. And I think that this is a bad thing to do. It is as bad as burning 

Thus, in spite of numerous and courteous attempts on the part of the interviewer to save him from 
himself, Sir David Wilson. It will be noted that he had the grace to modify his opinion under 
questioning. That is, he stopped saying, as he had begun by saying, that it was the Greek patriots who 
were the fascists. But this only prefaced his accusation that it was the British friends and allies ol 
these Greek patriots who were the emulators of Hitler. Once again, one finds oneself compelled to 
repeat the obvious. It was British internationalists who opposed the mutilation of the Parthenor 
before the Greek national revolution and before the birth of the Greek state. Their intention, and the 
intention of the Greek government, is to build a fitting museum and not to destroy one. Work on this 
museum, on the slopes of the Acropolis, is beginning. It is Sir David Wilson who, hearing the word 
‘culture’, reaches for his buckshot gun. 

The same programme was notable for a more measured - I almost said more British - 

intervention from the eleventh Earl of Elgin. Invited to give his opinion of Mrs Mercouri he replied: 

Unfortunately, the last time she came here, I had an engagement. It wasn’t a concocted engagement - I did have one at the 
Pavilion in Brighton, and I couldn’t go to meet her which was very sad I suppose, because it would have been better, once given 
the chance, to meet the lady and hear her own presentation. Which she’s done with tremendous flamboyance and great emotion 
and I think that had it not been for great emotion, my ancestor would never have done what he did. I mean if he had been dull and 
insipid and so on, he would have just had his artists make their drawings and then he’d have shrugged his shoulders and then he 
should have finished, gone away. 

Asked if he sometimes wished his ‘great-great-grandfather had never done it’, Lord Elgin replied: 

Goodness yes, I desperately wish that he just stuck to his original idea because, I mean, it was a disaster as far as the family was 
concerned. I mean from the financial point of view it was a disaster and then in addition to that you ... were held up, and jokes 
were made about marbles, and whether you’d lost them or not. I mean, it’s a ... very sad state of affairs whenever you appear in 
public, somebody hoots with laughter, it’s very sad. 

One may prefer the bluff candour of Lord Emsworth to the schemes and wiles of the efficient Baxter. 

A suggestive monograph could probably be written on the British obsession with precedent. Long 
after it was argued that the restitution of the marbles would herald the end of the empire and no doubt 
the departure of the ravens from the Tower of London, a man who is paid a national stipend to 
understand and discuss the issue resorts to the crudest abuse and hysteria. Some of this national 
anxiety was captured by F. M. Cornford in his incisive little treatis q Microcosmographia 
Academica, published by Bowes and Bowes in Cambridge in 1908. Cornford was writing on the 
tactics of Fabius Cunctator as applied to the senior common room and the college committee, but his 
advice to bureaucratic tacticians could have been adopted with profit by a clearer-thinking man than 
Sir David Wilson. Chapter Seven of the treatise, entitled ‘Arguments’, is particularly apposite: 

There is only one argument for doing something; the rest are arguments for doing nothing. 

Since the stone axe fell into disuse at the close of the Neolithic age, two other arguments of universal application have been 
added to the rhetorical armoury by the ingenuity of mankind. They are closely akin; and, like the stone axe, they are addressed to 
the Political Motive. They are called the Wedge and the Dangerous Precedent. Though they are very familiar, the principles, or 
rules of inaction, involved in them are seldom stated in full. They are as follows: 

The Principle of the Wedge is that you should not act justly now for fear of raising expectations that you may act still more 
justly in the future - expectations which you are afraid you will not have the courage to satisfy. A little reflection will make it 
evident that the Wedge argument implies the admission that the persons who use it cannot prove that the action is not just. If they 
could, that would be the sole and sufficient reason for not doing it, and this argument would be superfluous. 

The Principle of the Dangerous Precedent is that you should not now do any admittedly right action for fear you, or your 
equally timid successors, should not have the courage to do right in some future case, which, ex hypothesi, is essentially different, 
but superficially resembles the present one. Every public action which is not customary, either is wrong, or, if it is right, is a 
dangerous precedent. It follows that nothing should ever be done for the first time. 

Another argument is that 'the Time is not Ripe'. The Principle of Unripe Time is that people should not do at the present 
moment what they think right at that moment, because the moment at which they think it right has not yet arrived. But the 
unripeness of the time will, in some cases, be found to lie in the Bugbear ‘What Dr - will say’. Time, by the way, is like the 
medlar; it has a trick of going rotten before it is ripe. 

Cornford was a tactician of some genius as well as considerable experience in the field. He would 
make a masterly critic of today’s shifty retentionists, as they scramble from one dugout to another and 
lay down different sorts of smoke in the process. No one who has ever sat on any species of 
committee can fail to recognise, in the figure of the most sinuous time-waster he or she has ever had 
to deal with, the very model of our modern retentionist. 

6. The Greeks of today are not authentically Greek and have no title, natural or otherwise, to 
Periclean or Phidian sculpture. 

In much of what I wrote in the above passage and elsewhere, I made the working assumption that the 
Greeks were Greek. This has been contested, often in the most presumptuous manner, by some 
modern defenders of retention. (It was, as a matter of interest, never contested by Lord Elgin or any ol 
his equipe, who may have looked down upon the Greeks but did not deny their claim to be so called.) 

A few words may be useful concerning the idea of Greek continuity. On the face of it there is little 
enough to argue about, unless you take up the burden of the German ethnologist Jakob Philipp 
Fallmerayer, who thought that all depended on blood and that the Greeks did not have a classical 

Greek has been found in written form on tablets that were inscribed 1400 years before the birth of 
Christ. Although literacy disappeared for several centuries between the end of the Mycenaean age and 
the emergence of the Greek alphabet as we know it today, there were still parts of the Greek world, 
notably Cyprus, where this continuity was unbroken. Despite numerous invasions and (if one musl 
concede for a moment to Fallmerayer) adulterations, this most distinctive emblem of a nation or 
people - its language - is distinct and traceable. 

One can go further without being unduly speculative. To quote the Cambridge archaeologist 
Professor A. M. Snodgrass: 

The Greeks always believed that their culture had its beginnings in what we call the Bronze Age - the age of Crete and 
Mycenae, of the warriors and heroes immortalised in the Homeric epics and the great cycles of tragedy: Oedipus, Achilles, 
Odysseus, Agamemnon. The sensational discoveries of Heinrich Schliemann at Troy and Mycenae in the nin eteenth century 
seemed to confirm at least the background of the legends, while Arthur Evans’s excavations at Knossos, which first revealed the 
ancient civilisation of Crete to the modern world, made the story of Theseus seem almost credible. In recent years, with the 
establishment that the language of the Mycenaean world was indeed an early form of Greek, myth and history have drawn even 
closer together. The most sober archaeologist finds it hard to suppress the image of the past which the Greeks themselves have 
passed down to us. 

Peter Fevi, the late Oxford Professor of Poetry, made a similar point about literature when he said: 

The early Greek prose and poetry we have are bound to be impressive to us, if only because they show a stage and also a range 
of human development which are not so well documented anywhere else. The fact that the Greeks leamt to read and write is a 
cause as well as an effect of that development, and Greek society even as written history and poetry first reveal it was in a 
headlong process of change. To us the most thrilling thing about Greek literature, even more so than about archaic Latin, is its 
mere earliness: these writers have become fully articulate and even philosophic when in some ways their thoughts are still 
primitively forceful, and a preliterate skeleton often underlies their cleverest literary devices. Because of the fact that only written 
language has a chance of surviving to be rediscovered, and so to influence a new future, most of European literature has been 
built on these shaky, chance foundations, and the early Greek writers appear to us now haloed with a special purity and 

In philosophy, we have the intriguing remark by Professor A. A. Fong of Berkeley that ‘the Greeks 
would not have discovered the cosmos unless they had sensed an analogy between human order and 
rationality, and natural events’. This makes a good fit with a more impressionistic reflection by Costa 
Carras, who writes: 

It has often been asserted as a sort of poetic but still serious hypothesis that the famous clarity of Aegean light, the subtle and 
beautiful balance of mountain, sea, hill, inlet and plain, where no feature overpowers the other, has something to do with the origin 
and development of the Greek identity and the Greek achievement. 

If language, landscape, national consciousness and philosophic and artistic tradition do not amount to 
continuity, it is difficult to see what does. Certainly no other European people has a comparable 
claim (though it is fair to say that the extent and nature of the claim are enthusiastically disputed 
among Greeks - itself a sign of vigour). The Greeks preserved their heritage and identity, moreover, 

through many centuries of conquest and occupation. Whether they referred to themselves as Graeci, 
Ionic, Hellenes or (under the Roman Empire and after, to the present day) Romios, the Greeks had a 
distinctive and surviving sense of themselves even when they lacked a state to call their own. It was a 
feature of their national and European renaissance in the 1821 revolution that the Greeks began to 
draw upon a classical imagery and tradition that lay, as it were, ready to hand. 

Consistent in all the varied authorities cited above is some concept of symmetry and of balance, 
combined with a certain austerity. Unlike most of the other great and eclipsed civilisations of the past, 
the Greeks were never notorious for luxury or ostentation. The poverty of their soil and mountains and 
coasts was the revenge for its beauty, and rather discouraged the ornate. 

The Parthenon is the nearest to a single combination of these various national harmonies, and 
although it was once splendidly decorated it was never vulgar or barbaric. A poor Greek of the 
present day need not feel, any more than his fifth-century bc predecessor, that the Parthenon was 
designed to exclude or impress or oppress him. Unlike the Pyramids or Babylon or Karnak or the 
Colosseum, it is not a monument to slave labour or a temple for the adoration of power. And a literate 
Greek of today, however humble, can puzzle out many of the inscriptions in the Acropolis Museum. 
When certain English critics sneer that this man or woman is inauthentic, or ‘not really’ Greek, are 
they setting a standard by which they would be content to be measured themselves? 

If I could be faulted on all the foregoing, and even if the last Greek on earth had died out alon£ 
with the language, it would remain the case that Greek symmetry has been a gift to culture, and the 
case for restoring the statuary to the building or to Athens would remain strong. 

A Modest Proposal 

Much of the argument about the Parthenon marbles is mired in repetition and clogged with stale 
disputation. Was Elgin an altruist? Does the British Museum have the bounden duty to uphold his 
legacy? Are the Greeks fit to be the custodians of their own antiquity? There is something to be 
learned from considering all of these questions. But in considering them, it would be a pity to lose 
sight of a great opportunity. If the British official side would take less of a stand on property as its 
emblem of law and principle, it might become possible for us to see the splendours that this 
opportunity affords. 

At present, a tremendous effort is under way to restore the Parthenon and the Acropolis. 
Independent scholars in all fields, including leading figures from the British Museum, have praised 
this enterprise, and many of them are taking part in it. What can be preserved and strengthened in the 
buildings will be preserved and strengthened; the sculpture that can be remounted will be remounted; 
what must be removed to a museum is being removed to an adjoining one. Spacious and well- 
proportioned quarters are being prepared, and meanwhile the litter of uncatalogued stone is being 
cleared away and classified. 

In short, the British are being invited to take part in a unique undertaking. By a simple act ol 
parliamentary generosity, they could become the co-founders of a restored Parthenon, and partners in 
the renewal of the Acropolis. For the first time since Greece became free and independent a visitor to 
Athens could see all the surviving marvels of Pericles and Phidias in one day, and in the context for 
which they were originally fashioned. On the day that this incomparable site could be declared ‘open’ 
a large part of the credit would adhere to the members of the British Parliament for abandoning the 
costive insistence that ‘what we have we hold’, and for opening their ears to the lucid arguments of 

Byron, Harrison, Seferis and others. It would have been better done in 1924 as a tribute to Greel 
independence and the Byron centenary. It would have been better done in 1945 as a tribute to 
Greece’s wartime heroism Another numinous opportunity was allowed to lapse in 1988, when the 
duocentenary of the birth of Byron went into the bureaucratric discard. But a fresh chance - if an> 
special occasion is really needed - is upcoming. The year 2001 will mark another duocentenary. It 
will be two centuries since Lord Elgin mounted his expedition to the Acropolis. Many people are 
now engaged in considering how best to mark ‘the millennium’, and the search is on for gestures that 
express deep feeling or promise a more global conception of the human family. Perhaps we might 
modestly suggest a small act which would be regarded, and not just by Greeks, as a large one? In the 
words of a former Leader of the House of Commons: ‘The government who take the final step o: 
restoring the Parthenon marbles to where they belong will be acclaimed for their magnanimity.’ Who 
dares to say that this proposal is ‘cultural fascism’? There is still time to make the act of restitution: 
not extorted by pressure or complaint but freely offered as a homage to the indivisibility of art and - 
why not say it without embarrassment? - of justice too. 

The Restitution Works on 
the Acropolis Monuments 

Charalambos Bouras 

While the monuments of the Athenian Acropolis are today more or less known to the whole world, a 
great many details concerning their creation and their turbulent history remain unknown. We can only 
guess at them by studying the monuments themselves and the relatively few testimonies written about 
them. What we see today are ruins that have lost their original brilliance, making it difficult for us to 
understand both the ways and means used to build them, and the historical mishaps that befell them. 
They do retain, nonetheless, that ‘ageless beauty’ mentioned by Plutarch, as well as their strikingly 
harmonious architectural proportions. These are monuments whose artistic, historical, sentimental 
and environmental impact is priceless and unique in the modern world. 

The Acropolis monuments are therefore cultural goods of prime importance that we must hand 
over to the forthcoming generations. The heavy duty and responsibility of preserving (and if possible 
upgrading) the Acropolis monuments now rests on our shoulders for two reasons: first, because the 
conservation of past values has become imperative in modern societies; and second, because we have 
now realised, for the first time, what needs to be done in order to deal with the problems of these 
ancient monuments that have been left without maintenance from ancient times until the present day. 

The four main monuments of the Athenian Acropolis have been suffering degradation from the 5th 
century BC until today, caused, as a rule, by human action. The historical gaps mentioned above do 
not allow us, most of the time, to detect the causes of the destructions and alterations but the results 
are there for everyone to see. Early known efforts to repair the damage did not aim at conservation 
but at ensuring the ongoing use of monuments for various purposes, while the programme of 
interventions from 1897 to 1933 had as its target the restoration rather than the conservation of the 

The effort pursued today began in 1975, when, by initiative of the then Prime Minister K 
Karamanlis and Minister of Culture K. Trypanis, a committee was created to deal immediately witl 
the damage that had been accumulating over the past ten years. The most severe problems were, on 
the one hand, the wrong choice of materials and the ways these were used during the previous 
intervention (1897-1933), and on the other, the atmospheric pollution that was eroding the surface of 
the white marble and damaging the sculptures irreparably. The biggest problem was (and still is up to 
a point) the iron elements (beams, clamps, ties etc) that had been incorporated in the ancient marbles 
during the Balanos restoration. These elements, once rust set in, increased in volume and caused 
serious damage that in certain cases even led to near-collapses. The second major problem, acid rain 
and the atmospheric pollution of Athens, was dealt with by transferring the sculptures at risk to the 
protected closed space of the Museum and replacing them with exact copies. This is feasible as the 
Greek monuments of classical antiquity are formed by independent marble architectural members 
adapted to fit with one another without the use of mortar. 

The Committee for Conservation of the Acropolis Monuments (ESMA) was multidisciplinary 
incorporating archaeologists, architects, civil engineers and chemical engineers who, on the strength 
of reports based on direct observations, began analysing the problems to the best of their ability. One 
of the first actions taken by the Committee was to set up a Technical Bureau, staffed by young 
engineers and archaeologists, which made a systematic analysis based on new surveys in order to 
diagnose the damage suffered and to elaborate the final proposals for action. 

Right from the start of its operations, the Committee articulated the theoretical principles guiding 
its interventions; set priorities for various programmes affecting the four monuments; and decided on 
the procedure of approval for all kinds of intervention. It was made clear that the aim was not to 
reconstruct in any way the parts of the ancient monuments, and that construction of architectural 
members or parts of them using Pentelic marble was to be limited to a strict minimum. Such 
reconstructions were only justified in order to support or strengthen ancient members that had to be 
returned to their original place. In other words, an effort was made not to change the well-known 
general appearance of the monuments that had been the result of the Balanos restoration. 

The theoretical principles include the articles of the internationally accepted Charter of Venice 
(1964), and two principles concerning the nature of the ancient Greek monuments and their great 
archaeological value. 

The first principle - that of reversibility - imposed the utmost respect for the ancient material. 
The authentic members of the monuments are not chiselled out and the adaptation of new marble to 
old is done in a way that allows its damage-free removal in case of error. Naturally, in order to 
ensure reversibility it is absolutely necessary to have a lull archive, a data base containing all the 
relevant evidence. The second principle makes it necessary to preserve the original independence of 
the architectural members. An effort is made - through joining them together and adding marble where 
necessary - to ensure that the ancient marble pieces will function structurally and statically exactly as 
they did in antiquity. 

Once the works began, it was decided that the architectural members should be placed at their 
original position in the buildings. During the Balanos intervention of 1891-1933, various members 
had been allocated different positions from those they had originally occupied, for a variety of 
reasons. The study of chisellings done for the placement of ancient clamps made it possible to 
identify the original place of each separate architectural member and its subsequent repositioning. 

The Committee and the Technical Bureau first decided on the programmes of intervention in each 
monument and then on the priority of each case according to the degree of deterioration in certain 
areas. In other words, rescue operations came first. In order to speed up the works - for example, or 
the eastern side of the Parthenon, which was damaged in the 1981 Athens earthquake - two or three 
programmes are carried out by separate teams under different supervisors. 

The intervention on Erechtheion was given first priority because of the critical condition of the 
rusted iron beams of the older restoration and also because of the need to protect the caryatids in a 
closed space. The temple had been preserved in fairly good condition even though it had been 
drastically altered, perhaps in the 6th century AD, to serve as a church. It appears that before that date 
it had suffered fire damage and had been repaired during the reign of Emperor Augustus. During the 
Ottoman period it was converted into a dwelling and suffered from the pillage by Lord Elgin whc 
removed one Karyatid, one column of the eastern side and one piece of the decorated crowning of the 
building. The Erectheion suffered further damage during the 1821 Revolution, followed by various 
restitution projects of which the last was by Balanos (1902-1909). 

The current intervention began in 1979. It included the replacement of the rusted beams of the 
prostasis (porch) of the Karyatids and of the northern prostasis by titanium beams; the removal of the 
caryatids and their replacement with copies made of artificial stone; the completion and reordering of 
the limestone blocks of the northern and southern wall; as well as the restitution of the corner of the 
eastern prostasis of the temple, the column of which has been in the British Museum for the Iasi 
hundred years. This action was deemed necessary in order to improve the general appearance of the 
Erectheion. The temple displays an arrangement that is most unusual in ancient Greek architecture, 
and the eastern side made the monument appear even more puzzling by displaying five columns 
instead of the original six. On the side walls of the temple, Balanos had placed blocks of the northern 
wall on the southern one and vice versa. This was co nfi rmed after methodical research, and 
correction required the use of some blocks made of new marble. 

The excellent construction of the Parthenon would have granted the temple unlimited life had il 
not been for human action. It is not known precisely when - perhaps in the 3rd century AD - a great 
fire took place that completely destroyed the inside of the cella (or naos) and the marble soffits of the 
peristyle. The repairs are supposed to have been done around the year 360 AD so that the worship ol 
the goddess Athena could continue. The repairs, however, were more like a patch-up job employing 
pre-used materials, and totally unworthy of such a masterpiece. 

For the transformation of the temple into a Christian church, an apse for the sanctuary was created 
on the eastern side and a part of its sculptural decoration (mainly metopes and statues in the 
pediments) suffered irreversible damage. As centuries went by, the Parthenon was made to serve as 
the cathedral for the Orthodox Athenians, as a Catholic church and as a mosque. The greatesi 
catastrophe happened at the time of the Venetian-Turkish war, during the campaign of Morosini in 
Greece (1687), when an explosion turned the monument into an open ruin. The damage made il 
possible a century later for Lord Elgin to loot systematically most of the sculptures that had remained 
in place. 

During the 1821 Revolution, the Acropolis was besieged twice and suffered further damage. Its 
reconstruction began after 1830 with the removal of the more recent ruins and some reordering, and 
continued with the first restitutions. The names of Pittakis, Ross and von Klenze are linked with these 
first aid actions to Acropolis during a period of optimism and romantic classicism that turned the 
monuments into symbols of western civilisation. 

As is to be expected, these first interventions were not based on systematic studies or on any 
principles of restoration. Their intention was simply to assemble the scattered architectural members, 
to support the ready-to-tumble walls or columns and to maximise the recognisability of the ancient 
monuments. The demolition of the Christian apse in the inner sanctum of the Parthenon and in the 
tower of the Accayioli in the Propylaia are proof of the intention to promote the form these 
monuments had during classical times and to project the cultural heritage of antiquity. 

The great programme by Balanos was begun after the earthquake of 1894 that gave rise to worries 
about the condition of the monuments. The intention was to enrich the image of the monuments through 
anastelosis (restoration in the strictest possible sense of the word) by using the abundant scattered 
material, i.e. the architectural members that were lying aground on the Acropolis. The goal was 
admirable and attracted worldwide praise. Balanos did indeed create the image of Acropolis familiar 
to almost three generations of admirers. He made, nonetheless, many serious mistakes in putting his 
trust in the use of iron, in chiselling out the ancient members in order to facilitate their repositioning, 
and in changing the position of similar members in order to avoid searching for their precise original 

As has already been noted, the use of iron and its dilation when rust sets in created the greatest 
problems with the Parthenon as well as with other monuments. Moreover, Balanos, in trying to 
differentiate the appearance of the new drums from the ancient ones in the northern and the southern 
colonnade, constructed them using limestone with a very thick external coat of cement mortar, and 
strengthened by iron bars that were soon to rust and thus debase the appearance of the columns. 

The structural situation of the Parthenon has proved to be much worse than what it first seemed. 
When the dismantling of the architectural members that contained rusted iron from the Balanos 
restoration began, other members not displaced since antiquity were revealed. These had cracks of 
various sizes caused by the ancient fire or the explosion of 1687 that had widened during subsequent 
earthquakes. The effort to join the fragments together with the help of titanium rods and a strong 
purpose-made mortar considerably lengthened the expected duration of the intervention. 

The project of the restitution of the Parthenon was split into twelve programmes that were 
gradually implemented, beginning in 1983. The first programme concerned the eastern part of the 
temple and included not only the removal of the rusty iron ties introduced by Balanos, but also the 
removal of all the metopes whose guardianship was entrusted to the museum; the temporary 
dismantling of the north-eastern corner of the entablature as well as all the cornices; and the 
completion of the cornice at the south-eastern corner for static reasons. A second programme dealt 
with the completion - again for static reasons - of the fifth column from the east, belonging to the 
southern colonnade. 

The programme for the opisthonaos (the rear side of the cella) included not just restitution by 
joining together fragments of many architectural members (architraves, inside lintels of the frieze and 
thranos), but also bringing down the temple’s western frieze and transferring it to the Museum. 
Phidias’ 20-metre-long western frieze was the only group of classical sculptures that had remained on 
the temple after it was plundered by Lord Elgin. The work on it took place after lengthy discussion, as 
the Charter of Venice does not allow the removal of works of sculpture or paintings from an 
architectural monument unless they are in danger of being destroyed. However, air pollution in 
Athens - now certainly in regress as compared to that of 1975 - was continuing to damage the surface 
of Pheidias’ reliefs, even after a light protection shelter was put in place. 

The sculptures of the frieze were replaced by exact copies made of artificial stone. In the 
meantime, the originals were laser-cleansed with the co-operation of the Institute of Research and 
Technology of the University of Crete. An original mixture of radiations was used that removes dirt 
without affecting the marble and its patina. The expansion and complementary restoration of the 
ancient side walls of the cella are ongoing. Parts of the walls that had been built indiscriminately 
during the Balanos intervention must be dismantled, and detailed studies carried out to establish the 
original positions of the limestone blocks. The programme for works on the northern colonnade of the 
Parthenon began in 2001 and is still being carried out. Eight of the columns had been restored b> 
Balanos (1923-1933), and not only were all the corresponding members of their entablature in very 
bad condition because of the iron bars and ties incorporated in them, but cement drums had been 
introduced and the ancient drums and capitals had been wrongly placed. New studies had to be 
undertaken to determine their original position. The intervention on the northern side was extended 
westwards in order to bring down seven more metopes - unfortunately chiselled, but not moved from 
their ancient position - and place them in a protected closed space (2007). These metopes will soon 
be replaced by their exact copies. 

The programme of the Parthenon pronaos (antechamber) that began to be implemented in 1994 

did not have a rescuing but a restorative character. Even though the internal prostasis on the eastern 
side of the temple with its six columns had collapsed in the 1687 explosion, many column drums and 
architraves were spread on the ground and could be restored with appropriate additions. Finally, two 
columns with their architraves and another three at low height were erected. The flutes of the 
columns’ new additions have not, as yet, been chiselled in. 

In the Propylaia, the restoration of the marble coffering soffit and the colonnade of the central 
building made by Balanos had also created very serious problems: the great beams had cracked 
because of the dilation of the added iron elements. Both the soffit and the entablature of the 
colonnades towards the interior of the Acropolis were dismantled and restored anew, using titanium. 

The systematic counting and research of the scattered pieces in the Propylaia’s coffering panels 
on the Acropolis made it possible to reconstitute more than twenty panels with relatively few 
additions. Instead of the one Ionic column that Balanos had erected, thanks to the existing material, 
two were restored. However, the original Ionic capital was deemed to be in need of protection in the 
Museum, and two exact copies of it were made for the restoration, as well as three new beams. This 
important addition of new marble in the Propylaia was deemed permissible in view of the great boost 
to the recognisability of the monument that the extension of the soffit restoration entailed. 

The small Ionic temple of Athena Nike, placed crucially at the entrance of the Acropolis, has been 
restored twice in the past (initially by Ross and Hausen and by Balanos and Orlandos during the 
1930s). The result was that its architectural members were damaged in terms of their authenticity, i.e. 
as sources of archaeological information. Part of its frieze is in the British Museum and the rest has 
already been transferred to the Acropolis Museum The temple was entirely dismantled; its 
approximately 300 architectural members were cleansed of rusted metals and cement mortar, while 
its original floor - damaged and summarily restored in the past - was properly restituted. Here too, 
architectural members that have been wrongly positioned will be put right while precise casts of 
parts of the frieze will replace the ancient originals. 

Long and unrelenting though it is, there is a strong conviction among all those involved in the 
work on the Acropolis that they are carrying out a great project, using both ancient and the most up-to- 
date technology, to save a heritage that is of inestimable value not only to Greece, but also to the 

Professor Charalambos Bouras 
Director of the Committee for 
Restoration Works on the Acropolis 

July 2007 

Appendix 1 

The Present Location of the Parthenon Marbles 

The metopes, frieze and pediment sculptures are presently located as follows: 


Eastern side : The Battle of the Giants. 

All fourteen panels are preserved in position. 

Western side : The Battle of the Amazons. 

All fourteen panels are preserved in position. 

Northern side : The Trojan War. 

Eleven of the thirty-two panels, and some fragments, are preserved, either in position or in the 
Acropolis Museum. The preserved panels (as numbered by A. Michaelis inDer Parthenon, 1871) 
are metopes i-m, xxiv-xxv, and xxvn-xxxn. Metopes iv-xxm and xxvi are missing. 

Southern side : The struggle of the Lapiths and the Centaurs. 

In detail: 

i In position 

ii In British Museum 

hi In British Museum 

iv In British Museum; the heads of the figures are in Copenhagen 

v In British Museum; part of the centaur ’ s head is in Wurzburg 

vi In British Museum 

In British Museum; the Lapith’s head is in the Louvre, the head of the centaur is in the 
vn Acropolis Museum 

vui In British Museum 

ix In British Museum; the centaur’s head is in the Acropolis Museum 

x In the Louvre 

xi Destroyed; some fragments are in the Acropolis Museum 

xii In Acropolis Museum 

xiii Missing 

xiv Missing 

xv Missing 

xvi In Acropolis Museum; one of the heads is in the Vatican Museum 

xvn Missing; a fragment of a figure is in the Acropolis Museum 

xviii Missing 














Missing; a fragment of a figure is in the Acropolis Museum 

Missing; a fragment is in the Acropolis Museum 



Missing; a fragment of a figure is in the Acropolis Museum 

In British Museum 
In British Museum 
In British Museum 
In British Museum 
In British Museum 
In British Museum 
In British Museum 


The Great Panathenaic Procession. 

The frieze originally consisted of 115 numbered marble panels of irregular sizes. The corner blocks 
were numbered twice, as two adjacent sides were carved - for example, block I of the southern side 
is block XVI of the western side; there were, therefore, only III original blocks of marble. The norti 
and south sides held 47 panels each; the western side 14, and the eastern 7. The panels were 
numbered by A. Michaelis in his 1871 book Der Parthenon, this is the system in use today. The 
panels are given Latin numerals; the figures carved on the blocks have Arabic numerals. Each side ol 
the frieze is numbered individually, beginning with block I and figure I; thus numbering on the 
southern side begins at the southwest corner, on the eastern side at the southeast corner; on the 
northern side at the northeast corner, and on the western side at the northwest corner. 

The numbering is not consecutive, as Michaelis was looking at a severely damaged building. Some 
blocks are numbered out of order; these may have been lying on the ground when Michaelis saw them. 
Some numbers have been used more than once, with asterisks to denote the different blocks of marble; 
these blocks were missing when Michaelis made his plan. During the early Christian period, 
windows were opened along both long sides, marked by^ on the diagram (seep. 121), and the 
blocks discarded; other blocks are known to us only from Carrey’s drawings. 

It is important to remember that the list which follows is not final. The restoration work is still ir 
progress, and new fragments of frieze are still being found. 

Southern side 

i Half in position; half in the British Museum 

ii In position 

hi In British Museum 

iv In position 

v In British Museum 

vi In British Museum 

vn In British Museum 

viii In British Museum 

ix In British Museum 

x Missing 

xi In British Museum 

xn In British Museum 

xni In British Museum 

xiv In Acropolis Museum 

xv In British Museum 

xvi In Acropolis Museum 

xvii In Acropolis Museum 

xviii In Acropolis Museum 

xix In British Museum; the head of figure 48 in the Acropolis Museum 

xx In Acropolis Museum 

xxi In British Museum; fragments in the Acropolis Museum 

xxi* Missing 

xxn In British Museum; a small fragment in the Acropolis Museum 

xxiii Missing 

xxiv In British Museum; fragments of figure 59 in the Acropolis Museum 

xxv In British Museum 

xxvi Missing 

xxvii In British Museum 

xxix In British Museum 

xxi* Missing 

xxx In British Museum 

xxxi In British Museum 

xxxii Missing 

xxxiii Missing 

xxxiv Missing 

xxxv In British Museum; fragments of figure 97 in the Acropolis Museum 

xxxvi In Acropolis Museum 

xxxvii Missing 


xvi xv xiv xin xii xi x ix vm vii vi v iv in 11 i 



















xx xm 

































































(a and b) 



In British Museum 
In British Museum 

In British Museum; a fragment of figure III in the Acropolis Museum 

In British Museum; a fragment of the head of figure 118 in the Acropolis Museum 

In British Museum; the head of figure 125 in the Acropolis Museum 

Part of figure 126 in the Acropolis Museum; part of figures 127 and 128 

in the British Museum 

In British Museum 

Eastern side 

i In British Museum; a small fragment in the Acropolis Museum 

ii In Acropolis Museum 

hi In British Museum; the legs of figure 19 in the Acropolis Museum 

iv In British Museum 

v In British Museum; the head of figure 28 in the Acropolis Museum 

vi In Acropolis Museum; the legs of figure 40 in the Palermo Museum 

vii In the Louvre 

viii In British Museum; the heads of figures 58 and 60 in the Acropolis Museum 

ix Missing 

Northern side 

i Missing 

ii In Acropolis Museum 

hi In Acropolis Museum 

iv In Acropolis Museum 

v In British Museum 

vi In Acropolis Museum 

vn Missing; a small fragment in the Acropolis Museum 

viii In Acropolis Museum 

ix Missing; a small fragment in the Acropolis Museum 

x In Acropolis Museum 

xi In Acropolis Museum; the upper part in the British Museum 

xii In British Museum; the head of the figure 47 in the Acropolis Museum 

xiii Missing; a fragment in the Acropolis Museum 

xiii* Missing 

xiv In British Museum 

xv Missing; a fragment in the Acropolis Museum 

xvi* Missing 

xvi* Missing 

xvii In Acropolis Museum 

xviii In British Museum 

xix In Acropolis Museum 

xix* Missing 

xix** Missing 

xix*** Missing 

xx Missing; a small fragment in the Acropolis Museum 

xxi In British Museum 

xxii In British Museum; parts of figures 64 and 65 in the Acropolis Museum 

xxiii In British Museum 

xxiv In British Museum 

xxv In British Museum 

xxvi In British Museum 

xxvii Missing; fragments in Vienna, in Karlsruhe and in the Acropolis Museum 

xxviii In British Museum 

xxix In Acropolis Museum 

xxx In Acropolis Museum 

xxxi In Acropolis Museum 

xxxii In British Museum 

xxxiii In British Museum 

xxxiv In British Museum 

xxxv In British Museum 

XXXVI In British Museum 

xxxvii In British Museum; the head of figure 119 in the Acropolis Museum 

xxxviii In British Museum 

xxxix In British Museum 

xl In British Museum 

xli In British Museum 

xlii In British Museum; a small fragment in the Acropolis Museum 

Western side 

i In British Museum 

ii In British Museum 

iii-xvi In position; fragments of block xiv in the British Museum 

Pediment sculptures (denoted as in the drawings of Jacques Carrey) 

Eastern pediment. 
a In British Museum 

b In British Museum 

c In position 

d In British Museum 

e In British Museum 

f In British Museum 

G In British Museum 

h In British Museum 

j Missing 

k In British Museum 

l In British Museum 

m In British Museum 

n Missing 

o In British Museum 

p In position 

Western pediment 
a In British Museum 

b In Acropolis Museum 

c In Acropolis Museum 

d Missing 

e In Acropolis Museum 

f Missing 

G Missing 

h In British Museum 

j Missing 

k Missing 

l In British Museum; the figure’s head is in the Acropolis Museum 

m In British Museum; a fragment is in the Acropolis Museum 

N In British Museum 

o In British Museum 

p In British Museum 

q In British Museum 

r In British Museum 

s Missing 

T Missing 

u In Acropolis Museum 

v In Acropolis Museum 

w In position 

F. Brommer, in Die Skulpturen der Parthenon-Giebel (Mainz, 1963), enumerates another 250 
fragments, most of which are in the Acropolis Museum. 

Appendix 2 

The Commons Debate 1816 

Elgin’s petition was first presented in the House on 15 June 1815, and deferred; it was again deferred 
on 15 February 1816. What follows is Hansard’s account from23 February and 7 June 1816. 

23 FEBRUARY 1816 


The Chancellor of the Exchequer rose, in pursuance of his notice, to call the attention of the House to 
the collection of marbles in possession of the Earl of Elgin. Towards the close of the last session of 
parliament, the noble earl had presented a petition to the House, praying that an inquiry might be made 
into the value of his collection, which he was desirous of selling to government for the use of the 
public. The circumstances under which the noble lord had become possessed of those matchless 
productions were so well known, that the right hon. gentleman said, he would not trouble the House at 
any length on the subject. They were acquired by him, in the course of his mission to Constantinople, 
with the greatest exertions, and at a very considerable expense, and might be justly considered as the 
most valuable works of art that had ever been brought from the western parts of Europe. Every person 
acquainted with that noble lord must be aware, that his object had been solely directed to the 
advancement of the arts; but being unable, from circumstances which it was then unnecessary to 
repeat, to fulfil his munificent intentions, he was naturally anxious that the public should enjoy the 
advantage of his labours. As to the amount of the remunerations to be given to his lordship, the right 
hon. gentleman wished to leave it to the judgment of the house. The collection was too well known to 
make it necessary for him to refer to the opinions of the most eminent artists; it was, beyond all 
question, the most ancient and genuine that had ever appeared, and the country would be naturally 
proud of possessing a mass of models for the arts, which the united collections of Europe could 
hardly produce. The committee, however, for which he intended to move, would be enabled to call 
proper judges before them in order to ascertain the value. It was agreed, on both sides of the House, 
that, in the present situation of the country, it was in the highest degree desirable to avoid any 
unnecessary expenditure; but it should not be forgotten, that if the present opportunity was neglected it 
might never occur again. He saw no prospect but, in the course of a short time, these exquisite works 
of art must be dispersed, or disposed of to foreign purchasers. The House had before an opportunity 
of acquiring a valuable collection, and they had, for public purposes, and on public grounds, availed 
themselves of it. They had now the offer of a more splendid collection; and it was certainly one of the 
most wonderful events of the day, that the works of Phidias should become the property of a native of 
Caledonia. The desire of conferring honour on the arts as well as on the arms of this country was the 
object of his motion; for, of all the arts, sculpture was at present the least flourishing in England. He 
should therefore move, ‘That the Petition of the earl of Elgin, which was presented to the House on 
the 15th of February last, be referred to a select committee, and that they do inquire whether it be 
expedient that the collection therein-mentioned should be purchased on behalf of the public; and if so, 

what price it may be reasonable to allow for the same.’ 

Lord Ossulston said, he could not object to procuring the advantage of such an interesting 
collection to the country. A question, however, might arise, whether an ambassador, residing in the 
territories of a foreign power, should have the right of appropriating to himself, and deriving benefits 
from objects belonging to that power. It was not the respect paid to lord Elgin, but to the power and 
greatness of the country which he represented, that had given him the means of procuring these chefs- 
d’oeuvres of ancient sculpture. He thought, therefore, that the House should go no farther than to 
remunerate the noble lord for the trouble and expense to which he had been in bringing over these 

Mr Bankes said, that the Committee would have to ascertain the mode in which the noble lord 
obtained these marbles, the expense to which he had been put with respect to them, and what degree 
of vested right the public already possessed in them. The noble lord could certainly not be considered 
as an independent traveller, who had a right to dispose of, at any price that he could obtain, whatever 
he might have collected in the course of his researches. He had availed himself of his character as an 
English ambassador to facilitate the acquisition. He professed, that instead of leaving the question 
altogether to parliament, he should have thought it better had the noble lord fixed the price that he 
required. Under all the circumstances, however, although he was persuaded that the Committee would 
have an inconvenient and a laborious task, and although he felt very sensibly the difficulties of the 
times, yet the collection was one of such acknowledged value, one so unrivalled in its nature, and 
which it was so much to be desired that the public should possess, that he could not hesitate to 
entertain the proposition made by his right hon. friend. 

Mr Abercrombie agreed that it was a matter of public duty not to hold out a precedent to 
ambassadors to avail themselves of their situation to obtain such property, and then to convert it to 
their own purposes. He was sure, however, that the noble lord would inform the committee of the 
extent of his facilities. As to obstacles in forming a reasonable estimate, he conceived it would not be 
found so difficult as the hon. gentleman seemed to think. What they would have to do was, to inquire 
whether these marbles were really so valuable to the public as they were represented to be, and then 
to ascertain what money the noble lord had expended in procuring and bringing them to this country. It 
would then remain for the House to decide upon the sum to be given to his lordship. Generally, he 
believed, there could be but one opinion upon this subject, and that there would be no opposition to 
the appointment of a committee. 

Mr Gordon thought it his duty in answer to the remark just made, that there could be but one 
opinion on the subject, to say, that in his judgment, the present distressed situation of the country did 
not call upon parliament to make a purchase of a set of marbles. However desirable these marbles 
might be for the promotion of the arts, it would be very impolitic and improper at this time to incur 
any unnecessary expenditure. He therefore wished the right hon. gentleman to postpone this measure 
till the country had been relieved from the burthens which now oppressed it. 

Mr Tierney said, that no man could feel more anxious than himself that these works of art should 
not be scattered over the country, or be suffered to leave it. If the object of the motion was to inquire 
whether lord Elgin had become possessed of them in consequence of his public functions, and what 
expenses he had incurred, he was ready to agree to a committee; but not that particular artists should 
be asked what they conceived to be the value of these marbles. He thought the committee should be 
instructed how they ought to conduct themselves. It had been stated that lord Elgin formerly applied to 
Mr Perceval on this subject, who offered a specific sum of money, which his lordship refused. He did 
not see, therefore, why the offer should be repeated. He thought an inquiry should be instituted as to 

the extent of his expenditure in procuring these marbles. Part of them were brought over in ships of 
war, and consequently at the public expense. If it were merely intended to hold out encouragement to 
ambassadors to enrich their country with works of arts, then the motion was creditable to the right 
hon. the chancellor of the exchequer; but if he meant that the noble lord, availing himself of his 
official character, should now call himself the possessor, he would not agree to the motion. He 
thought it improper, in the present situation of our finances, that the House should be invited to 
purchase them. The right hon. gentleman had said, it was very desirable to possess them. This might 
be very true, there were a great many things which he would wish to have, and he was sorry he had 
them not; but he was bound to consider his means, and the right hon. gentleman should do the same. 

Mr C. Long spoke in favour of the appointment of a committee. It would be to be regretted, if the 
public lost this opportunity of obtaining a collection more useful than any other that could be found for 
the improvement of the arts. If the House refused to purchase this collection of lord Elgin, it would be 
hard on his lordship to be prevented from disposing of it otherwise. 

Mr Preston opposed the motion, on the ground of the influence of example, and the distressed state 
of the country, Lord Elgin ought to have come boldly forward, and have made them a present to the 
country. He thought, that if ambassadors were encouraged to make these speculations, many might 
return home in the character of merchants. He could not consent to pay for the collection according to 
what might be called its value, but only as far as it was a compensation to an ambassador for his 
expenses in procuring it. He did not see that lord Elgin was bound by what the committee thought 

Mr Brougham was sorry that in the discharge of his duty he must object to the appointment of a 
committee. He participated, at the same time, in feeling with other hon. members that it was extremely 
desirable such a collection should be in the possession of this country. It was very rational that we 
should wish to indulge ourselves in this sort of gratification, but he was under the necessity of looking 
to the other side of the question. This country had not the money to spend. As a nation we found 
ourselves precisely in the situation of an individual who might see many things he would like to 
purchase, and which he might purchase too at a cheap price, but he could not indulge himself with the 
article, for upon asking himself the question he found that he had no money in his pocket. Perhaps this 
collection might cost about forty or fifty thousand pounds, but even if it would cost only ten or twelve 
thousand this was not the time to press expenses upon the public. This was a time when we were 
called upon to cut down expenses of every description. If it could be afforded, consideration was due 
to the present state of midshipmen, and also of halfpay officers, retiring upon what was not equal to 
their support, but he believed the only answer which could be returned was, that in the present state of 
the country, we were not able to afford them any further assistance; still if we could not give them 
bread we ought not to indulge ourselves in the purchase of stones. On these grounds he felt it his duty 
to object to the present motion, and should therefore conclude by moving the previous question. 

Sir John Newport had not been able to satisfy his mind that these marbles had been acquired in that 
way that could authorize the nation to purchase them. He therefore should support the amendment. 

The Chancellor of the Exchequer said, the committee to be appointed would of course consider 
the question of the expenses of the noble lord carefully, and see also whether they had been properly 
applied or not. He saw no good ground for taking up the subject at some other time. If the business 
could be adjourned, with a fair and full security for our retaining possession of this most valuable 
collection, it would certainly be preferable; but it would be very burthensome to lord Elgin to be 
debarred from selling it to any body else, while parliament thought fit to refuse to purchase it. 

Mr Babington thought the mode in which the collection had been acquired partook of the nature of 

spoliation. It was of the greatest importance to ascertain whether this collection had been procured by 
such means as were honourable to this country. We were at present looked at with much attention, and 
perhaps jealousy, by other nations; and many in a neighbouring country might rejoice to find us 
tripping. He hoped the committee would be careful in seeing that the whole transaction was consonant 
with national honour. If these remains of antiquity were not honourably acquired, he hoped we should 
have nothing to do with them 

Mr Croker said, it was extremely desirable for the committee to inquire into the points mentioned 
by the hon. member. He would not vote for the committee, if he did not think it essential to ascertain 
that what had been done was compatible with the noble lord’s and with the country’s honour. 

The previous question was put and negatived; after which the main question was agreed to, and a 
committee appointed. 

7 june 1816 

[elgin marbles.] The House having resolved itself into a committee of supply, 

Mr Bankes, in calling the attention of the committee to this subject, expressed his regret that it had 
not been decided when under consideration five years ago. On the present occasion he should not take 
up much of the time of the committee, as he anticipated some objections to his proposition. Where the 
reputation of his country was concerned, as in cases where opportunities had occurred of purchasing 
valuable collections in science or art, calculated to enlighten and improve the taste of the people, 
even under the pressure of war, the House had never shown an unwillingness to listen to any 
applications made to them on that account. What large additions had been made to the public stock of 
valuable monuments of this description in the late French war! He need only refer to the Lansdown 
manuscripts; and what was more analogous to the present case, the Townleian collection of marbles 
purchased in 1795, when the war was but recently begun, and there was no prospect of its being soon 
finished. He wished to remind the House what a large vote had been given in the last session for a 
national monument to commemorate the glorious battle of Waterloo. In the present session, the House 
had also voted a monument in commemoration of the victory of Trafalgar, though long since past. He 
made these preliminary observations, in order to meet the objections of economy, which, he 
conceived, did not apply in this case. By declining to purchase the Elgin marbles, the public must 
renounce all right in the thing, and leave my lord Elgin at liberty to deal with any person who offers to 
purchase. The sort of mixed claim which the public had on lord Elgin, was, he conceived, of this 
description - they had not a right to take his collection from him by force; but they had a right of 
preemption at a fair price, and to say that it should not be taken out of this country. If he had not heard 
from gentlemen that it was their intention to oppose the present grant, he should not have thought it 
necessary - supposing the things good in themselves - to press upon the House, of what great 
consequence it was to every country, to promote public taste, and public refinement. How could these 
be better promoted than by making the greatest examples of excellence their own, for the benefit of the 
public? With respect to the manner in which the Elgin marbles had been acquired, the object certainly 
could not have been attained, had lord Elgin not been a British ambassador; but it was not solely as a 
British ambassador that he obtained them No objection had ever been made to the operations of lord 
Elgin, either by the government, at Constantinople, or the local authorities; nor did it appear that any 
person had ever been disgraced or superseded on that account. Not only the local authorities of 
Athens were favourable, but the natives both Turks and Greeks, assisted as labourers. He had to state 
confidently that in all the examinations before the committee, of persons who had been at Athens, 
either at the period of lord Elgin’s operations, or shortly afterwards, the uniform tenour of the 

evidence was, that the natives were not only instrumental in carrying the firmaun into execution, but 
even pleased with it as the means of bringing money among them. He could therefore say, that there 
was nothing like spoliation in the case, and that it bore no resemblance to those undue and tyrannical 
means by which the French had obtained possession of so many treasures of art, which he rejoiced to 
see again in the possession of their rightful owners. A notion prevailed among some gentlemen, that 
these treasures also should be restored to their original owners. But how was this to be done? Were 
they to be taken as public property? Though we had a right of preemption, we had no right to take 
them away from lord Elgin without compensation. Did they mean that they should be purchased from 
lord Elgin, for the purpose of being shipped back to those who sat no value on them? Were not these 
works in a state of constant dilapidation and danger before their removal? The climate was no doubt 
less severe than our northern one; but still they were then making rapid strides towards decay, and the 
natives displayed such wanton indifference as to fire at them as marks. They had also been 
continually suffering, from the parts carried off by enlightened travellers. The greatest desire, too, had 
been evinced by the government of France to become possessed of them We found them however 
here. The public had a right to bargain for them; and it would be a strange neglect of the policy 
pursued by the House of Commons in all times, and especially during the late war, if they neglected to 
become possessed of them. With respect to the price, in all works of art, the value might be said to 
depend on caprice. The most eminent artists had been consulted by the committee; by many they were 
classed above, and by others little below the highest works obtained since the restoration of art; and 
for forming a school of art they were considered as absolutely invaluable. The House had some actual 
data to guide them in the price given for the Townley collection. In point of number, the age to which 
they belonged, the place from which they were brought and the authenticity of the collection, there 
could be no doubt that they ranked considerably higher than the Townleian collection. If the 
Townleian collection was worth £20,000 this was worth at least the £15,000 additional proposed to 
be given. There was at least one foreign prince extremely desirous of purchasing this collection. The 
opportunity would not again recur. In no time had so large, so magnificent, and so well authenticated 
a collection of works of art of the best time, been produced, either in this or in any other country. In 
Italy the works of ancient art were found in excavations at different places and different times. But 
here we had at once the whole of the ornaments of the most celebrated temple of Athens. There was 
another mode of valuing the collection, the expense incurred in making it. He had no doubt that the 
sum proposed to be given fell considerably within the expense actually incurred by lord Elgin, 
exclusive of interest. In 1811, £30,000 had been offered by Mr Perceval, provided lord Elgin could 
make it appear that his expense amounted to that sum. But considerable additions had been made 
since 1811, no fewer than eighty cases, containing some of the best works had been since received, 
and persons who were judges had no doubt that such additions greatly exceeded in value £5,000. 
Under all these circumstances, he should move, ‘That £35,000 be granted to his majesty, for the 
purchase of the Elgin marbles, and that the said sum be issued and paid without any fee or other 
deduction whatsoever. ’ 

Mr Curwen opposed the grant. He cordially joined the hon. gentleman in his sentiments respecting 
the importance of works of art. The hon. gentleman had referred to the monuments voted for the 
victims of Waterloo and Trafalgar. He hoped, however, in the present situation of the country, that the 
House would retrace their steps. No monument could add to the transcendent glory of those victories, 
or of the heroes engaged in them. A statement had been made the other night, that the expenses of the 
country exceeded the revenue by nearly £17,000,000. He wished it were possible to controvert this 
statement. In such a state was it fit to make purchases of this description, however gratifying to a few 

individuals, at the expense of the nation? He was afraid that we were fast approaching to that course 
of extravagance with respect to the public money, which had brought to decay the countries where 
these works of art were produced. Whatever imputations of want of taste and feeling might be thrown 
out against him, he would say that the House were bound, however much they admired this collection, 
and it was admired by every man in the House, to refrain from making the purchase at the present 
moment. Retrenchments of a very different magnitude from any yet witnessed must necessarily be 

Mr J. W. Ward was as adverse to idle expenditure as the hon. gentleman himself could be, and 
thought we should not seek occasions for it; yet he considered the present an opportunity of benefiting 
the public that could not occur again: and it was precisely because it was not against the principle of 
economy that he voted for the measure. As to the spoliation of Greece that had been so much 
complained of, no one could be more unwilling than he was that these sacred relics should be taken 
from that consecrated spot, where they had excited the enthusiasm of ages; no one could have a 
greater respect than himself for the feelings of nations; but these objects were lying in their own 
country in a course of destruction: and he wished to consult the feelings of that country by any means 
short of the actual destruction of specimens so precious. As to the price that had been proposed, it 
was pretty clear that foreign princes would go to it, if we did not; and it certainly did not exceed the 
value of the articles. 

Mr Hammersley said, he should oppose the resolution on the ground of the dishonesty of the 
transaction by which the collection was obtained. As to the value of the statues, he was inclined to go 
as far as the hon. mover, but he was not so enamoured of those headless ladies as to forget another 
lady, which was justice. If a restitution of these marbles was demanded from this country, was it 
supposed that our title to them could be supported on the vague words of the firmaun, which only gave 
authority to remove some small pieces of stone? It was well known that the empress Catharine had 
entertained the idea of establishing the Archduke Constantine in Greece. If the project of that 
extraordinary woman should ever be accomplished, and Greece ranked among independent nations 
with what feelings, would she contemplate the people who had stripped her most celebrated temple 
of its noblest ornaments? The evidence taken before the committee disproved the assertion that the 
Turkish government attached no value to these statues. Lord Elgin himself had not been able to gain 
access to them for his artists, for less than five guineas a day. The member for Northallerton (Mr 
Morris) had stated before the committee, that when he had inquired of the governor of Athens whether 
he would suffer them to be taken away, he had said, that for his own part he preferred the money 
which was offered him to the statues; but it would be more than his head was worth to part with them. 
He had also stated, that the pieces thrown down were certainly liable to injury, but that the others 
were only subject to the waste of time. The Turks (the same witness said) were not in the habit of 
shooting at them, nor had he heard any instance of that kind. But whether the Turks sat any value on 
them or no, the question would not be altered, as his objection was founded on the unbecoming 
manner in which they had been obtained. It was in the evidence of the noble earl himself, that at the 
time when he had demanded permission to remove these statues, the Turkish government was in a 
situation to grant any thing which this country might ask, on account of the efforts which we had made 
against the French in Egypt. It thus appeared that a British ambassador had taken advantage of our 
success over the French to plunder the city of Athens. The earl of Aberdeen had stated that no private 
traveller would have been able to have obtained leave to remove them. But the most material 
evidence respecting the manner in which these statues had been obtained, was that of Dr Hunt, who 
stated, that when the firmaun was delivered to the waywode, presents were also given him It thus 

appeared that bribery had been employed, and he lamented that the clergyman alluded to should have 
made himself an agent in the transaction. It was his opinion that we should restore what we had taken 
away. It had been computed that lord Elgin’s expenses had been £74,000, of which, however, 

£24,000 was interest of the money expended. A part of the loss of this sum should be suffered to fall 
on lord Elgin, and a part on the country. It was to be regretted that the government had not restrained 
this act of spoliation; but, as it had been committed, we should exert ourselves to wipe off the stain, 
and not place in our museum a monument of our disgrace, but at once return the bribe which our 
ambassador had received, to his own dishonour and that of the country. He should propose as an 
amendment, a resolution, which stated - ‘That this committee having taken into its consideration the 
manner in which the earl of Elgin became possessed of certain ancient sculptured marbles from 
Athens, laments that this ambassador did not keep in remembrance that the high and dignified station 
of representing his sovereign should have made him forbear from availing himself of that character in 
order to obtain valuable possessions belonging to the government to which he was accredited; and 
that such forbearance was peculiarly necessary at a moment when that government was expressing 
high obligations to Great Britain. This committee, however, imputes to the noble earl no venal motive 
whatever of pecuniary advantage to himself, but on the contrary, believes that he was actuated by a 
desire to benefit his country, by acquiring for it, at great risk and labour to himself, some of the most 
valuable specimens in existence of ancient sculpture. This committee, therefore, feels justified, under 
the particular circumstances of the case, in recommending that £25,000 be offered to the earl of Elgin 
for the collection in order to recover and keep it together for that government from which it has been 
improperly taken, and to which this committee is of opinion that a communication should be 
immediately made, stating, that Great Britain holds these marbles only in trust till they are demanded 
by the present, or any future, possessors of the city of Athens, and upon such demand, engages, 
without question or negociation, to restore them, as far as can be effected, to the places from whence 
they were taken, and that they shall be in the mean time carefully preserved in the British Museum ’ 

Mr Croker was desirous not to take up the time of the committee by entering into the discussion, 
but he could not help remarking upon one or two of the statements which the last speaker had drawn 
from the evidence, by reading one part of it, and omitting others which should have been taken in 
connexion. He had never heard a speech filled with so much tragic pomp and circumstance, 
concluded with so farcical a resolution. After speaking of the glories of Athens, after haranguing us 
on the injustice of spoliation, it was rather too much to expect to interest our feelings for the future 
conqueror of those classic regions, and to contemplate his rights to treasures which we reckoned it 
flagitious to retain. It did seem extraordinary that we should be required to send back these 
monuments of art, not for the benefit of those by whom they were formerly possessed, but for the 
behoof of the descendants of the empress Catherine, who were viewed by the hon. gentleman as the 
future conquerors of Greece. Spoliation must precede the attainment of them by Russia; and yet, from 
a horror at spoliation, we were to send them, that they might tempt and reward it! Nay, we were to 
hold them in trust for the future invader, and to restore them to the possession of the conqueror, when 
his rapacious and bloody work was executed. Our museum, then, was to be the repository of these 
monuments for Russia, and our money was to purchase them in order that we might hold them in 
deposit till she made her demand. The proposition, he would venture to say, was one of the most 
absurd ever heard in that House. Considerations of economy had been much mixed up with the 
question of the purchase; and the House had been warned in the present circumstances of the country, 
not to incur a heavy expense merely to acquire the possession of works of ornament. But who was to 
pay this expense, and for whose use was the purchase intended? The bargain was for the benefit of the 

public, for the honour of the nation, for the promotion of national arts, for the use of the national 
artists, and even for the advantage of our manufactures, the excellence of which depended on the 
progress of the arts in the country. It was singular that when 2500 years ago, Pericles was adorning 
Athens with those very works, some of which we are now about to acquire, the same cry of economy 
was raised against him, and the same answer that he then gave might be repeated now, that it was 
money spent for the use of the people, for the encouragement of arts, the increase of manufactures, the 
prosperity of trades, and the encouragement of industry; not merely to please the eye of the man of 
taste, but to create, to stimulate, to guide the exertions of the artist, the mechanic, and even the 
labourer, and to spread through all the branches of society a spirit of improvement, and the means of a 
sober and industrious affluence. But he would go the length of saying, that the possession of these 
precious remains of ancient genius and taste would conduce not only to the perfection of the arts, but 
to the elevation of our national character, to our opulence, to our substantial greatness. The conduct of 
the noble earl, who by his meritorious exertions, had given us an opportunity of considering whether 
we should retain in the country what, if retained, would constitute one of its greatest ornaments, had 
been made the subject of severe and undeserved censure. No blame had, however, been shown to 
attach to it after the fullest examination. One of the objects, and the most important object, for which 
he wished the institution of a committee was, that the transactions by which those works of art were 
obtained, and imported into this country, might stand clear of all suspicion, and be completely 
justified in the eyes of the world, and that the conduct of the noble lord implicated might be fully 
investigated. He (Mr C.) was entirely acquainted with the noble lord before he became a member of 
the committee, and could, of course, have no partialities to indulge. What he said for himself, he 
believed he might say for the other members with whom he acted. They were all perfectly 
unprejudiced before the inquiry commenced, and all perfectly satisfied before its conclusion. They 
had come to a unanimous opinion in favour of the noble lord’s conduct and claims, and that opinion 
was unequivocally expressed in the report which was the result of their impartial examination. With 
regard to the spoliation, the sacrilegious rapacity, on which the last speaker had descanted so freely, 
he would say a few words in favour of the noble lord, in which he would be borne out by the 
evidence in the report. The noble lord had shown no principle of rapacity. He laid his hand on 
nothing that could have been preserved in any state of repair: he touched nothing that was not 
previously in ruins. He went into Greece with no design to commit ravages on her works of art, to 
carry off her ornaments, to despoil her temples. His first intention was to take drawings of her 
celebrated architectural monuments, or models of her works of sculpture. This part of his design he 
had to a certain extent executed, and many drawings and models were found in his collection Nothing 
else entered into his contemplation, till he saw that many of the pieces of which his predecessors in 
this pursuit had taken drawings had entirely disappeared, that some of them were buried in ruins, and 
others converted into the materials of building. No less than eighteen pieces of statuary from the 
western pediment had been entirely destroyed since the time when M. de Nointel, the French 
ambassador, had procured his interesting drawings to be made; and when his lordship purchased a 
house in the ruins of which he expected to find some of them, and had proceeded to dig under its 
foundation with such a hope, the malicious Turk to whom he had given the purchase-money observed, 
‘The statues you are digging for are pounded into mortar, and I could have told you so before you 
began your fruitless labour.’ [Hear, hear!] - Ought not the hon gentleman who had spoken so much 
about spoliation to have mentioned this fact? Ought he not to have stated that it was then, and not till 
then, that lord Elgin resolved to endeavour to save what still remained from such wanton barbarity? 
Had he read the report, and did he know the circumstances without allowing any apology for the 

noble earl? Did he not know that many of the articles taken from the Parthenon, were found among its 
ruins? More than one-third of that noble building was rubbish before he touched it. The hon. member 
(Mr Hammersley) had referred to the evidence of the member for Northallerton (Mr Morrit); but 
while he quoted one part of it, he had forgotten another, by which that quotation would have been 
explained and qualified. He had visited Athens in 1796; and when he returned five years afterwards, 
he found the greatest dilapidations. In his first visit he stated, that there were eight or ten fragments on 
the pediment, with a car and horses not entire, but distinguishable: but when he returned, neither car 
nor horses were to be seen, and all the figures were destroyed but two. If the hon. member, whose 
statement he was combating, had read the evidence carefully, he would have seen that lord Elgin 
interfered with nothing that was not already in ruins, or that was threatened with immediate 
destruction. The temple of Theseus was in a state of great preservation, and, therefore, proceeding on 
this principle, he had left it as he found it, and only enriched this country with models and drawings 
taken from it. Much had been said of the manner in which lord Elgin had prostituted his 
ambassadorial character to obtain possession of the monuments in question. There was no ground for 
such an imputation. Not a piece had been removed from Athens till lord Elgin had returned, and of 
course till his official influence ceased. Signor Lucieri was even now employed there under his 
lordship’s orders; and was he still prostituting the ambassadorial character? When his lordship was a 
prisoner in France, the work was still going on; and was he then prostituting the ambassadorial 
character? His lordship had remained after his return at his seat in Scotland; and was the character of 
ambassador injured in his person during his retirement? He (Mr Croker) might have shown some 
warmth in defending the opinion of the committee, and removing the imputation thrown upon the noble 
person whose character had been attacked by the hon. member: but he hoped he would be excused, 
when the nature of the charges which had excited him were considered. - He could not sit in his 
place, and hear such terms as dishonesty, plunder, spoliation, bribery, and others of the same kind, 
applied to the conduct of a British nobleman, who was so far from deserving them that he merited the 
greatest praise, and to the nature of transactions by which so great a benefit was conferred upon the 
country, without any ground for a charge of rapacity or spoliation. But if the charges of improper 
conduct on lord Elgin’s part were groundless, the idea of sending them back to the Turks was 
chimerical and ridiculous. This would be awarding those admirable works the doom of destruction. 
The work of plunder and dilapidation was succeeding with rapid strides, and we were required again 
to subject the monuments that we had rescued to its influence. Of twenty statues that decorated the 
western pediments of the Parthenon, only seven miserable fragments were preserved: yet this part of 
the building was almost perfect at the beginning of last century; now only a few worthless pieces of 
marble were preserved - he called them worthless, not as compared with the productions of art in 
other countries, but in comparison with what had been lost. They would, however, remain to animate 
the genius and improve the arts of this country, and to constitute in after times a sufficient answer to 
the speech of the hon. member, or of any one else who should use his arguments, if indeed such 
arguments could be supposed to be repeated, or to be heard beyond the battle hour in which they were 

Mr Serjeant Best conceived that lord Elgin had not acted as he ought to have done, whatever 
opinion might be entertained of the works of art which he had been the means of importing into this 
country. He regarded the improvement of national taste much, but he valued the preservation of 
national honour still more. He could not approve of a representative of his majesty laying himself 
under obligations to a foreign court, to which he was sent to watch the interests and maintain the 
honour of the country. Such an officer should be independent, as by his independence alone he could 

perform his duty. He had obtained the firmaun out of favour, and had used it contrary to the intention 
with which it was granted. What would be thought of an ambassador at an European court, who 
should lay himself under obligations by receiving a sum to the amount of £35,000? But even the 
firmaun lord Elgin had obtained did not warrant him to do as he had done. The firmaun could do 
nothing without bribery. Could the words in which it was written admit the construction that was put 
upon them? It merely gave a power to view, to contemplate and design them. Did this mean that these 
works were to be viewed and contemplated with the design of being pulled down and removed? Lord 
Elgin himself did not say that he had authority to carry off anything by means of the firmaun. His 
lordship was himself the best interpreter of the instrument by which he acted, and he was here an 
interpreter against himself. If he erred, he erred therefore knowingly, though his design might be 
excusable or praiseworthy. Dr Hunt’s evidence had been quoted, to show that his lordship had 
authority from the waywode of Athens for what he had done, but his words would not bear such an 
interpretation. Dr Hunt said only that the waywode was induced to allow the construction put upon the 
instrument by lord Elgin. The powerful argument by which the waywode was induced to allow the 
construction alluded to, consisted in a present of a brilliant lustre, fire-arms, and other articles of 
English manufacture. But were these the arguments that ought to have been used by a British 
ambassador? Was he to be permitted to corrupt the fidelity of a subject of another state - the servant 
of a government in alliance with our own, and under obligations to us? But it had been said that if the 
works of art had not been brought here, they would have been destroyed by the Turks. This would not 
have been the alternative. The Turks would have been taught to value these monuments, had they seen 
strangers admiring them, and travellers coming from distant countries to do them homage. They could 
not but now learn their value, after they were deprived of them, by hearing that £35,000 had been paid 
for them to the person who imported them to England. It had been said that lord Elgin would advance 
the arts by lodging these remains of antiquity in a country where eminence in arts was studiously 
attempted. This he denied, or at least thought doubtful. Such works always appeared best in the places 
to which they were originally fitted. Besides, with this example of plunder before their eyes, the 
Turks would be a little more cautious in future whom they admitted to see their ornaments. These 
marbles had been brought to this country in breach of good faith. He therefore could not consent to 
their purchase, lest by so doing he should render himself a partaker in the guilt of spoliation. He did 
not object to the bargain on the ground of economy, but of justice. 

Mr Wynn was not aware of the transaction being so flagitious as it was said to be. He equally 
disliked the idea being entertained that we had got them by bribery. Every person who knew the 
Turkish character must be sensible that when they gave any thing away it was with the view of 
receiving an equivalent. He could not condemn the transaction on the ground of the marbles being a 
gift from a foreign government, and therefore affording a bad precedent; for he did not think that a gift 
of £35,000 purchased at an expense of £64,000 was a precedent likely to be much followed. On the 
principle of economy he knew it was the duty of the House to act, but economy was often ill-judged, 
and very much misapplied. Considering them a valuable accession in every point of view, and that the 
same opportunity might never recur, he had no objection to the grant. 

Sir J. Newport would vote against the motion, even if the country were in affluent circumstances, 
on account of the unjustifiable nature of the transaction by which the marbles in question were 

Mr C. Long said, he was ready to agree in all the objections founded upon the unfitness of the time 
for any acts of lavish expenditure; but the present was an occasion, which could not again present 
itself, of acquiring for the country these exquisite specimens of art. It was fair to say that the purchase 

of these precious remains of antiquity was for the gratification of the few, at the expense of the many. 
The amendment of the hon. gentleman was somewhat inconsistent with his professions of economy 
for he proposed to give £25,000 to lord Elgin, for obtaining these marbles dishonestly, and then to 
send them back to those who would not thank them for their trouble. 

Lord Milton was aware that an apology might be expected from all those who objected to a grant 
that was to put the country in possession of these invaluable monuments of ancient art. He could not, 
however, agree that they had been acquired consistently with the strict rules of morality. They 
appeared to him to have been obtained by lord Elgin through his influence as ambassador from this 
country, and it was not unnatural that the Turkish government should view with suspicion a national 
purchase arising out of such circumstances. The objection to the purchase he should deem niggardly 
and ill-advised at any other time; but the present was one of peculiar distress, and one in which the 
want of subsistence was the cause of riot and disturbances in many parts of the country. 

Mr P. Moore said, the hon. gentleman who had talked of this being the last opportunity, reminded 
him of the auctioneer’s cry of ‘going, going, gone.’ He desired to know whether any offer had been 
made for these marbles by a foreign power; and whether they were not in fact under sequestration at 
present by government for a debt due to the Crown by lord Elgin. 

Mr Brougham considered that there was no doubt as to the desirableness of our possessing these 
interesting monuments, from their general tendency to improve the arts. The only question upon which 
he hesitated was, whether we could afford to buy them. The purchase-money, they were told, was but 
£35,000; but he apprehended that, when purchased, it would be necessary to build a proper 
receptacle for them, and the whole expense might be estimated at 70 or £80,000. Had we, then, this 
money at present in our pockets, with which to gratify ourselves by so desirable a possession? The 
stronger the temptation was to this purchase, the greater satisfaction he felt in redeeming his share of 
the pledge given to the country, that no unnecessary expenditure should be incurred. 

Mr J. P. Grant declared in favour of the original motion, observing, that that would be a mistaken 
economy, as well as bad taste, which would deprive this country of such valuable works of art as 
lord Elgin had collected. 

The House divided: For the original Motion, 82; Against it, 30. 

Appendix 3 

The Parthenon Gallery in the New Acropolis Museum 

The New Acropolis Museum is located only 300 metres from the Acropolis. The parallel orientation of the Parthenon Gallery of the 

museum with the monument of the Parthenon is clearly evident here. 

With its glass walls, the Parthenon Gallery enables a 360-degree view of the whole of Athens. Most importantly, at many points in the 
gallery visitors will be able to look upon the monument and its architectural decorations in the gallery more or less at the same time. 

The cement core on which the frieze of the Parthenon will be exhibited is a central structural, architectural and functional feature of the 
Museum building. The stainless steel columns are placed at precisely the same intervals as the pillars of the Parthenon, ensuring that the 
metopes will also be located in the same position (but not height) as when they adorned the monument. 


Abbott, Charles (later Lord Colchester) 43 
Abercrombie, Mr (MP) 129 
Aberdeen, Lord (George H. Gordon) 45, 46, 130 
Byron’s attack 51-2, 53 
Acropolis, soundness of the rock itself 92 
Acropolis Museum 
creation 152 

possession of some Parthenon sculptures 24 
air pollution 14, 94, 95 
argument 91-2 
Alexander the Great 6 
Antiochus of Syria 7 
Athena 2, 6 
Athenaeum Club 85 
Atlee, Clement 72, 75 

Babington, Mr 133 

Babylon 25 

Balanos, N. 111-14 

Balestra, Vincenzo 28 

Bankes, Mr (MP) 129, 133-4 

Basil II 8, 22 

Benin bronzes 97 

Best, Mr Serjeant 145-6 

Blue her, Field Marshal 46 

Bowker, Sir James 73-5 

Bowra, Sir Maurice 81 

Boyd-Carpenter, Lord (John) xix, xx 

Braakel (ship) 38 


classical influence on art and architecture 84-6 
Hammersley’s proposal to return if requested 55 
House of Commons debate and vote 49-50, 127-49 
negotiations for purchase 42-8 
summary of dispute 82-3 

Thelma Cazalet asks for restoration as recognition 71-2 
wartime Foreign Office proposal and conditions 73-6 
British Museum 

Act of Parliament required for return 72 

buys the Elgin Marbles 49 

damage done to sculptures in it’s care 88-91 

negotiations with Elgin 42-3 

other restitutions 97 

self-contradiction concerning stones lying about 72 
as setting for marbles 25 
on Visconti 45 

Broomhall (Elgin’s Scottish Home) 39, 42, 95 

Brougham, Henry (later Lord) 131-2, 148 

Browning, Professor Robert xii, xxii-xxiii, xxv 72, 82 

Brownrigg, Sir Robert 97 

Burlington House 45 

Burton, Decimus 85 

Byron, Lord (George) 

attack on Elgin 51-4 centenary and bicentenary as occasion for restitution 69, 105 

Childe Harold 51, 52-3 

The Curse of Minerva 51, 52-4 

Caluci, Emmanuel 37 
Cambrian (ship) 40 
Cambridge University 97 
Capitoline Museum 44 
Carras, Costa 103 
caryatids see Erechtheion 
Casement, Sir Roger 63 
poem on the marbles 66 
Castlereagh, Lord (Robert Stewart) 47-8 
Cavafy, Constantine 63-4 
Cazalet-Keir, Thelma 71-2 
Chancellor, Alexander xxv 
Chelebi, Evliya 9 
Childe Harold (Byron) 52-3 
Choiseul-Gouffier, Comte de 10-11 
Choniates, Archbishop Michael 8 
Christmas in the Elgin Room (Hardy) 66-8 
Clark, Brian 82 

Clarke, Edward Daniel 17, 56-7 
Clive, Nigel 71 
Cnidus 34 
Coletis, John 12 

Committee for the Preservation of the Acropolis Monuments 108 
Cook, Brian F. 50 

on Greek conservation and restoration 44 
Cook, Professor J.M. 20 
Corinth 35 

Cornford, F.M. Microcosmographia Academica 100 
Crete 71, 102 

Croker, John Wilson 56, 133, 140-41, 142, 144 

Cubitt, James and Eleni xxv 82 

The Curse of Minerva (Byron) 52-4 

Curwen, Mr (MP) 137 

Curzon, George Nathan 63, 64-6 

Cyprus 102 

Cyi'iac of Ancona 9 

Dandolo, Enrico 10 

dangerous precedent argument 100-101 

Douglas, Frederick Sylvester North, on ancient and modern Greeks 58 
Drummond, Sir William 38 

Eglen, Captain 37 
Egypt 23, 97 

Eleusis 35 

Elgin, Lady (Mary) 40 
Elgin, Lord (Thomas Bruce) 11 

appeals for firman/authorisation 11, 30-33 
attacked by Byron 51-4 
background 26-7 
begins acquisitions 30-34 

commissions copies and representations of sculptures 27-30 
criticism of actions and motives 50 
divorce 40 

failed plans for Scottish Parthenon 1-2, 84—5 

financial negotiations 42-6 

handling of sculptures at site 17-18, 62 

House of Commons debate about purchase 49, 50, 127-49 

intention to take marbles to Broomhall 30-31, 95 

and Kincardine, Lord (Alexander Bruce) 86-7 

misadventures in shipping 37-40 

Nicolson challenges firman 68-70 

regrets family disaster 99-100 

skin disease disfigures nose 40 

two hundredth anniversary as an occasion for restitution 105-6 
Elgin marbles 

accessibility and influence argument 84—7 
air pollution argument 14, 83, 91, 94 
authenticity challenged by Knight 41 
Bloomsbury setting 23-6 
British Museum’s memorandum of views 72 
Commons debate about purchase 49-50, 127-49 
damage done in British Museum 88-91 
dangerous precedent argument 100-101 
initial reactions to acquisition 50-51 
not just statues but part of unique building 62 
occasions for restitution 69, 105-6 
past-safety argument 32, 36, 59-60, 83, 86-94 
post-war campaigns 76-80 
present locations of all pieces 117-25 
question of Elgin’s authority 43,44, 46 
rough handling 17-18, 62 
summary of dispute 82-3 
Elytis, Odysseus 80 

Empson, William, Homage to the British Museum 24—5 

Epstein, Jacob 89-90 


caryatid from 32 
as a harem 23 

Hunt requests whole caryatid porch 32 
Mclnnes proposes return of pieces 80 
Nicolson suggests return of caryatid 68-70 
pieces shipped from Athens 34 
as a powder magazine 29 
restoration programmes 104-5, 107-115 
under the saw 32-5 
Ethiopian manuscripts 96-7 
European Union, Greece joins 81 

Fabius Maximus, Quintus (Cunctator) 100 

Falknerayer, Jakob Philipp 102 

Ferguson, Robert 40 

Fermor, Patrick Leigh 71 

Forsdyke, Sir John 90 


captures Elgin 38 
Napoleon purloins art 28 

Gavallo, Peter 37 

Nazi bombs on London museums 90-91 
occupation of Athens 23 
Gladstone, William E. 62 
Glezos, Manolis 23 
Gordon, Mr (MP) 130 
Gosling, Ray 77 
Gould, Professor John 82 
Grant, J.P. 149 

abject country in Ottoman period 28 

Acropolis restoration programmes 92-4 

air pollution 14, 83, 91-5 

Byron’s sensitivity to 51-4 

considered in Commons debate 127-49 

dictatorship of 1967 81 

feelings for antiques 51, 58-61 

Greekness of modern Greeks 58, 63, 76, 83, 96, 101-4 

history reflected in Parthenon 2-13 

joins EC 81 

left out of reckoning 48-9 
Machines gathers reactions 77-80 
never a rival or enemy of Britain 97 
proposes a special museum 72 

restoration suggested as war tribute against Hitler 71-2 
revolt incipient 34 
seen as open to plunder 58 
summary of dispute 82-3 
Greek Archaeological Service 13 
Greek Archaeological Society, origins 13 

Halicarnassus, Hunt carries off votive altar 34 
Hamilton, William Richard 

commissioned to sketch and make casts 27 
dismisses Byron’s attack 51-2 
on Lusieri 39-40 
negotiations of sale 44, 45, 47 
repatriating looted art 47-9 

Hammersley, Hugh 138-40, 143 proposes to return marbles if requested 54-6 
Hammond, Nicholas 71 

Hardy, Thomas, Christmas in the Elgin Room 66-8 
Harrison, Frederic 61-2 

controversy follows article 63-4 
Harrison, Thomas 35 
Haydon, Benjamin Robert 21-2, 41, 84 

Hazlitt, W illia m 84 

Hemens, Feicia Dorothea, Modern Greece 84, 87 
Hill, Sir George 89 
Hinks, Roger 88 

Hitler, Adolf, Sir David Wilson compares Greek patriots to 98 
Hobhouse, John Cam 58 
Holcombe, Arthur 88-90 

Hunt, Rev. Ph ilip 29, 32-3, 34, 146 carries off votive altar 34 plants ideas of Greek indifference 60 
Iktinos 3 

Ivanovitch, Feodor 28 

Jenkins of Putney, Lord (Hugh) xix 
Julian, Emperor 7 

Kabaka of Buganada 97 
Kazantzakis, Nicos 23-4, 25-6, 71 
Keats, John 22 

Ode on a Grecian Urn 86 
On Seeing the Elgin Marbles 85-6 
Keith, Lord 32 

Kings of Kandy shrine, sceptre and orb 97 
Klenze, Leo von 111 
Knight, Richard Payne 41, 46 

Knight, W.L.C., wartime Foreign Office proposal and conditions 73-5 
Knowles, James 73 

response to Harrison’s articles 63-5, 73 
Koenigsmark, Count 9 

Lane (Sir Hugh) Collection 78 
Lawrence, A.W. 14 
Levi, Peter 102-3 
Logotheti, Spiridon 28, 29, 38 
Lomax, David 98-9 

Long, Charles (later Lord Farnborough) 43, 48,131, 147 

Long, Professor A.A. 103 

Lord Elgin and his Collection (Smith) 26 

Louvre, possession of some Parthenon sculptures 24 

Luke, Saint 8 

Lusieri, Giovanni Battista 17-18, 33 
appeals for firman/authorisation 29-30 
commissioned to sketch and make casts 27-8 
death 40 

quarrels with Greeks and doesn’t deliver drawings 38-9 
on sawing 35-6 
Lysicrates, Monument of 29 

MacDonald, Ramsay, uses the ‘saved from destruction’ argument 69-70 

Machines, Co lin , campaign for restoration 77-80 

MacMillan, Harold (later Lord Stockton) 76-7 

Makriyannis, General 58-9 

Mandalay Regalia 97 

Mavrocordatos, Alexander 60 

Mehrned II, Sultan 9 

Mentor (ship) 37, 87 

Mercouri, Melina 81-2 

debate with Sir David Wilson 97-8 
Meyer, Karl, Microcosmographia Academica (Cornford) 100 
Meyer, Karl, The Plundered Past 40 
Miller, William 52 
Milton, Lord 148 
Minerva, Temple of see Athena 
Modern Greece (Hemens) 84, 87 
Moore, P. 148 

Morosini, General Francesco 10, 23, 111 
Morritt, John Bacon Sawrey 11, 54, 143 
Mycenae 35, 38 

Napoleon Bonaparte 
escape from Elba 45 
forces loot works of art 45 
purloined art 28, 76 
Waterloo 47 

Nelson, Lord (Horatio) 11, 30 
Neroulos, Iakovos Rizos 12 
Newport, Sir John 46, 132, 147, 149 

Nicolson, Harold, suggests return of sculptures in honour of Byron 68-70 
Nike Apteros/Wingless Victory 38 
Nike, Temple of 114 

Nineteenth Century (magazine), Harrison-Knowles exchange 61-4 

Ode on a Grecian Urn (Keats) 86 
On the Greek Style (Warner) 59 
On Seeing the Elgin Marbles (Keats) 85-6 
Ossulston, Lord 129 
Ottoman Empire 9-12 
Elgin’s authority 43, 44, 46 
Greece abject and miserable wit hin 28 
Greeks send Turks bullets to save Acropolis 59-60 
possibility of grinding ruins into mortar 30, 36 


as a church 7-8, 9,22, 111 
construction and classical history 2-3, 6, 20 
current restoration programme 105 
Elgin’s responsibility for damage 62 
fires through the centuries 7, 111 
Greekness 104 

iron clamps do damage 13, 112, 113 

Nazi occupation 23 

Ottoman period 9-13 

plan of all the pieces 121 

present location of pieces 117-25 

Swedish and Venetian attacks 10-11, 23 

symbolic meaning 1-3 

techniques of restoration and conservation 99-115 
see also Elgin Marbles 
Pausanias 7 
Pedro IV of Aragon 8 
Perceval, Spencer 43, 130, 136 
assassination 44 

Pericles 3, 6, 19, 20, 22 
Phidias 3, 20 

The (Woodhouse) 48-9 
Pittakis, Kyriakos 

begins restoration work 111 
sends bullets to the Turks 59-60 
Planta, Joseph 42-3, 45, 46 
The Plundered Past (Meyer) 40 
Plutarch, Life of Pericles 20 
popular opinion Without Walls poll viii-ix 
Preston, Mr (MP) 131 
Proclus 7 

Propylaia 29, 36, 114 
Pryce, Frederick 88 

Rangavis, A. Rizos 60 

Roosevelt, Fran klin D., worries about plinths 76 
Rosetta Stone xxii 25 

Sargent, Sir Orme 75 
Sassoon, Sir Philip 70-71 
Scotland, Scottish National Monument 1-2, 84 
Seferis, George, on General Makriyannis 59 
Siddons, Mrs Sarah 41 
Smith, Arthur Hamilton 33 
conclusions about Elgin’s actions and motives 49-51 
on Elgin’s Park Lane house as museum 42 
‘Lord Elgin and his Collection’ 26 
on negotiations 46 
omits lines in Perceval’s letter 43-4 
Snodgrass, A.M. 102 
Soane, Sir John 85 
Socrates 3 

Sphinx, portion of beard returned 97 
Spon, Jacques 9 
Stewart, W illia m G. xxi 
Stone of Scone xxii 

Strabolgi, Lord (David Kenworthy) xix-xx 

Theseion 29 

Threed, William 85 

Thucydides 3, 19 

Tierney, George 130-31 

Tower of the Winds 29 

Trypanis, Professor Constantine 14-108 

Turkey see Ottoman Empire 

Turner, J.M.W., com mis sioned to sketch Parthenon 27 

United nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) 1, 14, 81 

Vansittart, Nicholas 45, 47,49 
Visconti, Ennio Quirino 44-5 
Vournas, George 76 
Voutier, Colonel 12 

Ward, J.W. 137 

Warner, Rex, On the Greek Style 59 
Waterloo 28, 47 
We llin gton, Duke of 46 
Welsford, Miss 72 
Wheler, George 9 

Williams, H.W., uneasy about acquisition 57-8 
Wilson, Sir David, debate with Melina Mercouri 97-100 
Without Walls (Channel 4 television) xxi 
Woodhouse, C.M. 48-71 
The Philhellenes 48-9 
Worsley, Sir Richard 29 
Wyatt of Wee ford, Lord (Woodrow) xx, xxiii 
Wycherley, R.E. 6 

on construction of Parthenon 3 
Wynn, Mr 147